There weren’t too many highlights for the 2018 Ohio State defense.
Sure, they were part of a bunch of highlights, generally featuring an opposing player streaking into the end zone from an absurd distance away.
An 80-yard touchdown run by Oregon State.
A 78-yard touchdown run by Oregon State.
A 93-yard touchdown run by TCU.
A 93-yard touchdown pass by Penn State.
An 81-yard touchdown run by Maryland.
A 75-yard touchdown run by Maryland.
A 77-yard touchdown run by Northwestern.
The unit gave up 5.77 yards per play. Just to put that number in context, it was worse than Rutgers (5.70). And there is no context in which anyone should ever be worse than Rutgers.
The season featured a lot of angst, and a lot of questions about who was at fault. And while OSU players and coaches were quick to downplay any public laying of blame, it’s instructive to look at who is and isn’t back for 2019.
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano? Gone.
Co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch? Gone.
Linebackers coach Bill Davis? Gone.
Cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson? Gone.
Only one coach survived The Great Defensive Purge Of 2019: defensive line coach Larry Johnson. There’s a reason for that.
“That just shows you how much Coach Day respects him and how much he’s respected in the college world,” said freshman defensive end Noah Potter.
And Potter isn’t just flattering his new coach. Johnson is pretty much universally considered one of the best – if not the best – defensive line coaches in the nation.
His track record for attracting and developing talent along the front line is unquestionable. Since arriving in Columbus in 2014, Johnson has produced six NFL draft picks, including No. 3 overall selection Joey Bosa. He’s a lock to add at least two names to that tally this year, including another top-5 overall pick in Nick Bosa and a possible first-rounder in Dre’Mont Jones.
Now in his 43rd year as a coach, Johnson’s name and reputation continues to draw in the absolute top level of top-level talent.
He brought in 5-star defensive end prospect Zach Harrison this year.
Taron Vincent, a 5-star defensive tackle signed with the Buckeyes in 2018. The year before that it was 5-star defensive end Chase Young. One year earlier, it was 5-star Nick Bosa.
He already has Jack Sawyer, one of the top defensive end prospects in the 2021 recruiting class, committed to play at OSU.
All of them came to play for “Coach J.” Potter said that when he heard about Urban Meyer’s retirement, he only had one question.
“The main thing was Coach J staying. Once me and Coach Day and Coach J had the in-home meeting and told me Coach J was staying, I never wavered,” Potter said. “He’s the reason I am here.”
Johnson started building his relationship with some of his star recruits early. In the case of Harrison, it’s been four years in the making.
“I met him the spring of my (high school) freshman year. I’ve known coach J for a long time now,” Harrison said. “I know he’s great at what he does and I can’t wait to actually start working with him.”
Harrison said that Johnson was the OSU coach who recruited him hardest, and his reputation for developing players helped keep the talented freshman in Columbus.
“Knowing that he’s coached some of the best d-linemen at Ohio State, you know he knows what he’s talking about,” Harrison said.
But Potter said there’s more to Johnson than just his track record.
“It’s just the way he cares for his players. With all the schools I visited, nobody talked technique and was so passionate about it as much as him. I knew he would treat me like one of his sons.”
This spring will be the first time Johnson gets a chance to officially serve as a coach for Potter or Harrison. But Potter said Johnson has been working with them behind the scenes for years already.
“He has always been real with me and has always told me what I need to work on. He’s been coaching me up since my sophomore year. He means the world to me.”