Ohio State signed seven defensive linemen in the 2018 recruiting class.
Four defensive ends and three defensive tackles.
Four of the seven — ends Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday and tackles Tommy Togiai and Taron Vincent — played decent minutes as freshmen last year. Ends Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Alex Williams redshirted, while tackle Antwuan Jackson was lost in a loaded depth chart.
This year, however, the Buckeyes will need larger contributions from each of the seven, even with a sizable contingent of veterans still remaining on the defensive line.
With how much defensive line coach Larry Johnson likes to rotate, those seven need to step up this season. They don’t necessarily need to be magnificent, but they’ll need to be close.
“It’s paramount that these guys this year really get a chance to compete and compete for playing time. The inside guys have really done a great job this spring, so I really think we’re in great shape going into the season,” Johnson said last week.
“I’m really hoping those guys step up really big for us. This is what we’re doing this spring, we’re soaking those guys a lot right now to make sure they get a lot of reps and are ready to go. We’re talking about game speed. That’s what we’re going to do the next seven practices to get those guys ready to play.”
With so many veterans on the defensive line this season, they don’t need to take as many reps this spring, which is allowing the younger guys to get the kind of exposure they need to progress.
And so far, progressing is exactly what they’re doing.
“They really are. They’re coming out, they’re playing hard,” said senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper. “They’re making plays all over the field. I’m really proud of them and all of their progress. We’re going to need them this year. I’m really happy with my unit specifically because I’m with them. Guys are just stepping up and doing amazing, from Taron, Tyreke, Tyler, Tommy, Javontae, they’re all just stepping up and getting into their role and I’m really proud of them. Even Antwuan Jackson.”
Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday will likely be Ohio State’s top two backups at defensive end, which means they could see tons of action this season as part of that defensive end rotation.
Cooper and junior defensive end Chase Young are just two of the veterans working hard to get each of the young guys ready for what’s to come in 2019.
“Oh for sure,” Young said. “Tyreke, he’s got no choice but to step up. I’m in his grill every day. If he doesn’t get at least three sacks a day it’s a problem. That’s what we all expect from him. Taron Vincent, he’s definitely got to step up his sacks. Him, Tommy, they’re all going to play and they definitely will be really, really good. The 2018 class, they’re going to be really good this year. I’m excited to see them just go out and ball. I know they’ve been itching and hungry and just waiting for their time.”
Last season, the Buckeyes had some first-time starters on defense, including three on the defensive line. Those three — Cooper, Young, and Robert Landers — had to learn to be leaders quickly.
Cooper believes last year’s experience will help them lead the newest batch of defensive linemen being asked to step up and play a significant role.
“I think it’s very important,” he said. “Last year we had a lot of first-time starters and a relatively young team, but this year we’ve got a lot of people coming back. I think that helps a lot with the defense, just having people who know how the game works and know adversity. Just out there having a lot of leaders.”
With added leadership this season, the young players will have veterans to lean on. As opposed to what happened too often last season, where young players only had each other to lean on and learn from, with most of those lessons coming one or two steps too late.