The theory is simple. A fresh player is better that a tired player, so keep your players fresh by substituting often.
It’s an idea that OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson has embraced passionately. He’s taken it a step further by putting some numbers on the number of snaps a player can play at full go.
“Nobody can play 60 snaps fast,” said Johnson. “You can play your best for 30 to 40 at most,” he said.
Johnson is sold on rotation but there is a caveat. If you have a huge drop off in talent when you substitute rotation doesn’t work. You don’t take out a guy who is better after 50 snaps than the guy who comes in for him is as a totally fresh player.
At defensive end this year Johnson is blessed with an abundance of talent, and that makes the rotation idea go.
“We have five guys who could be starters anywhere,” said Johnson.
The five players Johnson is talking about at defensive end are sophomore Javontae Jean Baptiste (6-5, 250), sophomore Zach Harrison (6-6, 265), junior Tyreke Smith (6-4, 267), senior Jonathan Cooper (6-4, 257) and junior Tyler Friday (6-3, 265). The last four were all highly-ranked, highly recruited prospects out of high school while Jean Baptiste arrived at OSU as an outside linebacker prospect with blazing (sub 11-second 100 meters) speed. The entire group is fast and strong, yet have nuances to their play that make them anything but identical.
“We’ve got flavors,” said Friday. “We all have something different and all those things work out well,” Friday said.
Like Baptiste, Harrison was a sprinter in high school and registered sub 11-second times in the 100 meters, but he was a defensive end, not a linebacker. Smith may not be able to sprint with Baptiste and Harrison, but by all accounts he is the fastest Buckeye off the ball and may proved to be the next great Ohio State pass rusher.
“Tyreke’s get off is amazing, it’s something else,” said Friday.
Cooper brings not just talent but also the leadership qualities you would expect from a fifth-year senior. He could have opted for the NFL last year but decided to come back to Ohio State to take care of unfinished business. Friday, meanwhile, is reminiscent of former OSU and current NFL defensive end Tyquan Lewis. Friday has both the size and strength to bully linemen and could even play inside in a rushman package as Lewis and Joey Bosa did during their Buckeye careers.
The story is almost the same at the interior defensive line positions, but not quite as deep, at least not yet. There aren’t as many known players at the inside positions as there at defensive end, but Johnson has had a way of putting productive players on the field during his seven-year OSU coaching career and there’s not reason to think this year will be different. We’ll just have to find out who some of the names are. There are some names that we do know that are a great starting point.
Sophomore Taron Vincent (6-2, 295) and junior Tommy Togiai (6-2, 300) are players who will be on the field and can be counted on. Togiai is reputedly the strongest Buckeye on the team and will likely play at nose tackle. Senior Antwan Jackson (6-2, 295) is now healthy and is a likely candidate to be in the rotation this year. Jackson began his football career at Auburn after having committed to the Buckeyes in the recruiting process, but later decommitting. Things didn’t work out for him at Auburn and he ended in junior college before transferring to OSU. After an injury-plagued season last year he is ready to contribute. Johnson would like to find at least one more player for the rotation. He has a lot to choose from.
Veterans Jerron Cage (Jr. 6 -2, 299) and Haskell Garrett (Sr. 6-2, 299) have been waiting in the wings for a chance, though Garrett is currently recovering from a gunshot wound to the face. He is expected to eventually be available, but is not currently cleared for contact. Several young players have also stepped up. Redshirt freshman Jaden McKenzie (6-2, 290) was mentioned by Johnson as well as several of his teammates as a player who is making a move and one to watch. Incoming freshmen Ty Hamilton (6-3, 278) and Darrion Henry (6-4, 275) were both mentioned as players that look like contributors. There is also the possibility of putting together a rushman package for third down situations that would utilize a player like Tyler Friday as an inside rusher in passing situations