Ohio State defensive linemen Robert Landers, Davon Hamilton, and Tommy Togiai are together plenty.
They are friends and teammates, after all.
The one place you generally won’t see them together, however, is on the field during a game.
Playing the same nose tackle position as they do, they will be cutting into each other’s minutes every time they take a snap this season. Would each of them like to play more? Sure, but for an Ohio State defensive lineman, rotating is no big deal.
In fact, it’s a way of life.
One guy goes all out for a series or two, and then the next guy comes in and does the same thing.
Not every team can afford to rotate their defensive linemen the way the Buckeyes can, but this is the way defensive line coach Larry Johnson has designed it. And it works pretty darn well.
This year, things have gotten even deeper. Johnson is planning on going three deep at nose tackle this season.
Fifth-year seniors Robert “BB” Landers and Davon Hamilton rotated last year, and this year they will be joined by sophomore Tommy Togiai. Togiai played some last year, but the plan this year is for all three to shoulder equal loads.
Finding a way to make sure all three get their reps is simply a matter of planning ahead.
Making sure they stay there is up to the players.
This isn’t anything new, either.
“We were always competing, even when Tommy first came in,” Hamilton said. “Me and BB were always competing. Then Tommy added in and it made it even more of a battle. If we’re not competing, we’re not getting each other better. It’s kind of a love-hate type of thing. You’re pushing me to get better, but at the same time I’m trying to keep my spot, but you’re trying to come after me. Overall, it will make everybody better.”
Johnson has already laid out how things will work. Each guy will get at least two series in a row before coming out. That doesn’t mean the other guys will just be sitting and waiting, however. There will always be situations where one of them will need to be ready to jump in.
For instance, maybe Landers is the best pass rusher, so he runs out there for Hamilton on a second-and-8, or Hamilton goes in for Landers on a third-and-1.
Each of the three nose tackles has his own special skill set, and Johnson is quite familiar with their strengths. He knows who best to put in during any particular situation. All three are good enough to handle those situations on their own, but if the need arises, he won’t hesitate to put one of them into the game for their particular set of skills.
As to what those particular sets of skills are, the veterans can answer that.
“Tommy’s like, he is… what’s the best way to describe it. I got nicknames for them. Davon is Thanos and Tommy is Shrek. That’s how I look at it, Thanos and Shrek. That’s how I look at it,” Landers said. “But Davon is a nice little hybrid. He has a strength, he has the speed, he’s quick, he’s agile, he can move laterally. He can move vertical.
“Tommy’s honestly the same way it’s just, I really can’t, I really can’t explain in detail how their game is. It’s one thing too as you watch us and watch them play and watch me play. You can see the different styles of play and see how the production comes in and how the tempo of the game changes.”
“My playing style, I feel like I give a lot of power,” Hamilton said. “BB is more of a quick guy. And then Tommy is kind of both, so it’s like you don’t know what to do at that point. We all give a lot of effort, obviously.”
Some players may not be as willing to give up snaps in a three-man rotation. Especially at a spot that doesn’t even get to see that many passing downs.
They all understand that what Larry Johnson is doing is for the best of the team, which is why they are fine with it. Plus, it’s kind of fun to watch for their teammates get after it.
“Honestly, it’s a show because since all three of us have different playing styles, you really don’t know what you’re going to get,” Landers said. “All three of us bring a different type of tempo. You can send different types of swag to the game. When I’m in, you know, I try to do the best that I can to put on a show. And then when I’m out, I just sit back and cross my arms and watch and see what’s gonna happen.”
If players are good enough to play, then it is up to the coaches to get them on the field.
Having three nose tackles who have proven their worth is a great problem to have.
All three players support each other and they don’t see it as somebody taking their reps. They see it as Larry Johnson allowing them to stay fresh so that they can play 4-6, A-B on every snap. No loafing, no lulls. Full speed until each and every whistle.
Meanwhile, the opposing offensive line generally sticks to their five guys and they’re rarely as fresh in the fourth quarter as they were in the first.
Even aside from the part about staying fresh, the rotation also keeps the offense off balance.
Think of it as a pitcher in baseball changing the speed of his pitches. If he just throws 99, 99, 99, eventually the batters will get the timing down. By changing speeds, however, that 99 suddenly becomes a lot more difficult to catch up to.
“If you think about it, it’s really just about keeping us fresh,” Hamilton said. “I feel like if we keep building off one another in a game — one person goes in, then the next person goes in and changes the speed. And then you change the speed again. By the end of the game, the center is going to be tired, so it will make it easier for all of us to make plays.”