The Buckeyes must replace three departed defensive ends from last season who are now in the NFL, as well as their last two starting nose tackles.
That’s roughly 80 career starts gone from a unit that is finally experiencing some significant changes. Despite the losses, there are some who believe that this year’s Ohio State defensive line could be even better than last year’s.
The defensive line last year was instrumental in OSU allowing a Big Ten-low 2.94 yards per carry. That number was also good for the fourth-lowest average in the nation.
Defensive ends Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, and Jalyn Holmes were consistent seven days a week for the Buckeyes, and along with nose tackle Tracy Sprinkle, they showed the way for the younger generation.
Now, that generation must emerge. The good news here is that those players being leaned on now have plenty of talent, and most of them saw quite a bit of action last season.
With All-American Nick Bosa returning at defensive end, along with 2017 reserves Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper, the expectations remain high for a group of defensive ends that could have even more potential than the group last year.
At defensive tackle, fourth-year juniors Dre’Mont Jones, Robert Landers, and Davon Hamilton have taken over the interior. They are leading the way for a group of youngsters looking to make their marks this season.
As one of the leaders of this team, Dre’Mont Jones knows that if this defensive line is better than last year’s, it will be because of the example set by those players who taught this current group how to be professionals.
“It doesn’t happen without the guys that were just here,” Jones said. “Jalyn, Tyquan, and Sam, they set the tone. Nick and Chase, we’re just kind of following up on what they’ve set for us. We’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Losses occur every year, and through recruiting those losses are either accounted for or not. Ohio State, of course, has recruited very well, which makes the losses possibly less painful.
Take sophomore Chase Young, for instance. Young was one of the top players in the 2017 recruiting class and he played extensively for the Buckeyes last season, albeit in situations where games were rarely in doubt.
Young performed well, finishing with 6.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Young wasn’t the only youngster getting good reps while the veterans rested. As a sophomore, Jonathon Cooper played quite a bit as well, notching 3.0 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.
This year, those two will need to solidify the defensive end rotation with Bosa.
Dre’Mont Jones believes they’ll be just fine.
“Yeah, [Chase Young is] definitely starting to turn a corner because he’s realizing, like, ‘I’m no longer a young guy. Even though I am a sophomore and an underclassman, I’m no longer a young guy. It’s time for me to start making changes,'” he said. “Coop too. It’s not just Chase. Coop’s a part of that conversation.”
With the young players looking to step up and the veterans who will continue to lead and produce, the potential is high for this entire group.
Whether it will be better than last year’s defensive line remains to be seen, but Jones is confident that it will again be the best defensive line in the Big Ten this year.
“I’m pretty positive we have the best defensive line,” he said. “We’re not trying to exceed anybody’s expectations but our own. We believe we’re the best. There’s nothing more to say than that. We believe we’re the best and we’re going to go out there and perform like we’re the best because we’re Ohio State Football.”