Every year as Ohio State’s defensive line coach, Larry Johnson has to find a way to fill the voids left by those who have used up their eligibility, or more commonly departed for the NFL.
Since Johnson has arrived at Ohio State, he has been able to work with defensive ends like Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa, Chase Young, and others. Spence never got to play for him during a game, but the line of talent is impressive even without him.
Each time one of those players left, Johnson was posed with the question of how to replace him.
The truth is, nobody gets replaced, it’s just that new guys get an opportunity to show what they can do.
“It’s the next man up,” Johnson said. “It’s the next man up. It’s recruiting. It’s getting the right fit. I really believe that. Getting the right guy that fits what you’re looking for. Not necessarily the five-star, but does he fit what we’re doing defensively? Does he fit with the other guys in the room. That’s the key to me to success.”
Johnson and the Buckeyes went about trying to “replace” Nick Bosa this past season, with mixed results. As the best defensive player in the country, Nick Bosa would have been a huge loss for any defense, even one with other five-star prospects to turn to.
Everybody was affected by his departure, but each of those players still had a job to do. Chase Young wasn’t complaining now that things were more difficult. Neither was Jonathon Cooper. There was no sympathy from the opposition, so why bother seeking it.
For Young and Cooper, it wasn’t about replacing Bosa, it was about stepping forward and facing the task at hand.
In 2019, it will be the Buckeye defensive tackles facing a similar situation as they are asked to fill Dre’Mont Jones’ reps and his place on the line. Larry Johnson isn’t asking them to replace Jones. He’s simply asking them to step forward and take hold of the challenge.
“My thing is always that you can’t replace a great player, but what you try to do is make sure the guy who is the next guy up is ready to have a great career,” Johnson said. “I think that’s the most important thing. You can’t replace Dre’Mont. You can’t replace Nick Bosa. How do you think we replaced Joey Bosa? Look at it. The next guy goes up. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Despite the challenge, Johnson feels good about the depth chart that he’ll be working with.
“Next year, there’s enough guys in our system that can be the next Dre’Mont Jones. But really any of those guys in our system can be the next great three technique, and that’s way we think and that’s how we look at it.”
In order to be the next man up, that player has to have the proper attitude to do what needs done. He needs to work hard at his craft and be the right cultural fit for Ohio State.
And if he just so happens to be a five-star defensive lineman in addition to all of those other things, Larry Johnson’s not going to complain.
“It helps, right?” he said with a chuckle.