DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers both came to Ohio State as 3-star, in-state prospects who were previously committed to other schools.
Both were members of the 2015 recruiting class and both had to wait until after their senior seasons for an offer from the Buckeyes.
Landers was once committed to West Virginia, while Hamilton was once committed to Pitt, and then Kentucky when the Buckeyes came calling.
But for the players — and for the Buckeyes — good things happen to those who wait.
Landers and Hamilton redshirted as freshmen, but soon after began backing up the likes of Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle before finally taking over and splitting the nose tackle position together the last two seasons.
Together they were the best nose tackle in the conference this past season. Hamilton’s strength and speed were the perfect complement to Landers’ quickness and leverage. They were a great change of pace together, though Hamilton arguably distanced himself in 2019 and established himself as the Buckeyes’ best interior defender.
Losing them both creates a void that is going to be difficult to replace. The hope is that the players behind them are ready to step up despite never really having a chance to do so before now because Landers and Hamilton commanded so much playing time.
The top candidate here is rising junior Tommy Togiai, who was part of the rotation at nose tackle this past season and actually played roughly as many snaps as Robert Landers did. Togiai has a good amount of experience under his belt and is a solid combination of the power and speed that Hamilton and Landers combined for. He finished the 2019 season with 16 tackles, which were two more than Landers.
Antwuan Jackson has been both a three-tech and a nose tackle at Ohio State, but will probably spend his fifth year at nose tackle because of the depth chart. Jackson finished with 3.5 tackles for loss this past season, which was more than Togiai’s 2.0. He graduated in the spring of 2019.
Jerron Cage has not played much over his first three seasons with the Buckeyes, but having the likes of Robert Landers and DaVon Hamilton on the depth chart can have that kind of effect. Cage finished with four tackles this past season and has yet to really show what he can do.
There is also the possibility that Jaden McKenzie could get involved here after redshirting as a true freshman in 2019.
None of the three defensive linemen signed in the 2020 class are expected to end up at nose tackle. At least not initially.
Expect Tommy Togiai to be with the ones this spring and don’t expect him to look out of place in doing so. Antwuan Jackson may be a fifth-year senior in 2020, but it will still be necessary for him to get a good number of snaps in the spring so that defensive line coach Larry Johnson can see what he’s dealing with. This will be the biggest spring for Jerron Cage who will need to convince Johnson that there is once again room for three nose tackles like the Buckeyes have used the past two seasons.
The easy bet here is that Tommy Togiai is going to win the job and be one of the leaders of the 2020 Ohio State defense. He is arguably the strongest player on the team and is going to be the point man for the Buckeyes’ run defense. He has learned from two tremendous teachers in Landers and Hamilton, as well as arguably the best defensive line coach in college football.
Obviously it will be important to find somebody to be Togiai’s backup, but don’t be surprised if the nose tackle plays less in 2020 than it has in the past. Perhaps due to depth, the Buckeyes will go with more Rushmen packages that will see defensive ends Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, and Zach Harrison rotating inside with the three techniques on passing downs and more.