Yesterday, I was having a sip of the good stuff at the virtual water cooler when Tom stopped by to ask if we had any hand sanitizer. I told him that we did not but that simply washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds would keep him safe.
“Eh…I’m not really a soap guy,” he said.
“That’s…uh…disturbing,” I said as I took a few steps backward.
“Soap is a scam,” he said, getting ready to go off on another one of his conspiracies.
“Ope, sorry,” I said, “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I don’t really want to hear what you have to say about soap. Instead, let’s talk about breakout Buckeyes this coming season. If you can pick one player from each side of the ball to have a breakout season in 2020, who are you taking? Let’s do defense first.”
There are several great choices to pick as potential breakout stars on the Ohio State defense this fall.
Shaun Wade is already a star, but could be poised to take the next step to Jeff Okudah-level superstardom.
Safety Josh Proctor is finally going to get a chance to show what made him such a highly-coveted recruit.
DT Taron Vincent should be back and healthy following a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2019. He was already showing some initial glimmers of greatness as a true freshman at the end of 2018.
DT Tommy Togiai has been hyped as the strongest player on the team for more than a year, and now has the top of the depth chart to himself.
But to me, there is no one who is more on the cusp of truly breaking out than DE Zach Harrison.
Harrison finished his freshman year with 24 tackles, 5.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Those may not seem like eye-popping numbers on the surface, but they’re eerily similar to another recent Buckeye’s first season: 18 tackles, 5 for loss, 3.5 sacks.
(Paul Harvey voice) That player? You might remember… Chase Young. (/Paul Harvey voice)
Harrison and Young came to Ohio State with very similar recruiting pedigrees (Harrison was the No. 12 overall player in 2019 and the 2nd-best SDE, Young was the No. 7 overall player in 2017 and the 2nd-best WDE).
Harrison has already started to show signs of tremendous awareness, diagnosing screen passes and not falling into the kinds of traps that a lot of over-anxious freshmen do.
They have the same relentless desire to be the best, and are being developed by the same legendary defensive line coach.
Much like you shouldn’t ever comp an Ohio State offensive lineman to Orlando Pace, you really shouldn’t ever put the burden of “the next Chase Young” on a defensive lineman’s shoulders.
But if there is a player on track to develop into an absolute defensive line monster like Young, it’s Zach Harrison.
In doing these water coolers, I think our initial thought is to not necessarily go with the obvious guy, but rather to put some thought to it and see where that goes. Sometimes, however, that obvious guy is going to be the right answer. He’s obvious for a reason, after all.
For me, I go right to sophomore defensive end Zach Harrison, who is next in line among great Buckeye defensive ends. His freshman season of 24 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks is pretty similar to those of Chase Young (19/6.0/3.5) and Nick Bosa (29/7.0/5.0) as true freshmen.
But wanting to examine the possibilities of other players being the breakout performer, I don’t want to shortchange junior cornerbacks Sevyn Banks or Cameron Brown. I expect Brown to be fantastic this season, but nobody would be surprised if it was Banks instead. Odds are, one of those guys will be going pro after this season because that’s just the state of affairs for Buckeye corners.
If the Silver Bullets are going to truly be Silver Bullets this year, then the answer probably needs to be Josh Proctor at free safety. Even though everything starts up front, eventually it reaches the back end of the defense. If the Buckeyes are going to contend for a national championship this season, Proctor needs to be one of the Buckeyes’ breakout defenders.
I still have concerns about Proctor, however, and will until we see him performing at a high level as the Buckeyes’ last line of defense.
There are also other defensive linemen to point at as possible breakout guys. Tyreke Smith is healthy and due for big things as a junior. Tommy Togiai will likely become an Ohio household name this season at nose tackle. Taron Vincent was headed for big things at defensive tackle late in 2018, but missed last year due to an injury.
But in the end, I’m going to go with the guy I started with — Zach Harrison. He was a physical marvel as a recruit, but grew a lot as a football player last year. What would a breakout season look like? Something similar to what Young and the Bosas did as sophomores, I suppose.
Their average sophomore seasons were: 41 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks. Though those numbers were raised a bit by Joey Bosa’s 55 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 13.5 sacks.
Not having a spring hurts Harrison’s development, but he has consistently gotten better the more he has been coached. That is ongoing even now, but will continue full steam once everyone gets back to their regularly scheduled work days.