A magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat has nothing on OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnon.
Every year it seems Johnson’s defensive line group plays well, and every year when the season ends there is hand wringing about how the departing players can possibly be replaced.
Every year they get replaced with names and faces that leaving you wondering where these guys came from and why haven’t we seen them before. Last year Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett were the new faces on the defensive interior that Johnson pulled out of his hat. Coming into the season they were considered question marks. When the season ended they were considered star performers.
This year Togiai is gone, off ot greener pastures in the NFL, and there is the annual hand wringing about who can possibly replace him. One guy not wringing his hands is Johnson. He’s seen this all before, and feels like everything is under control .
“It’s a process,” said Johnson of player development. “Most of the time it takes two or three years. You have to grind at the bottom of it to get to the top. It won’t happen over night.”
It sounds a little like coach-speak, but it’s hard to call B.S. on a guy who has proven year after year that yes indeed, he knows what he is doing and what he is doing works. His formula is simple. Recruit top talent, then take the time to hone that talent into being it’s best possible product.
The recruiting part of Johnson’s formula is key, but sometimes fate can intervene to change the timetable for a player. Take for instance Taron Vincent. When Vincent signed with the Buckeyes some rating services had him rated as the top defensive line talent in the nation, but so far, he hasn’t been on the field much to show what he can do. That’s because a shoulder injury that required surgery kept out of games and out of practice, and his timetable was impacted. Now however, he is healthy, and ready to be pulled out of the hat by Johnson.
“It wasn’t easy for him,” said Johnson. “He has worked very hard on his rehab and is ready to make an impact.
“He’s exactly the player we thought he was when we recruited him. I’m excited to see him play.”
Another player who has been waiting in the wings for his turn is Jerron Cage. He too is a product of the Larry Johnson process, and his teammates say his biggest growth as a player came last year when “the light went on”. He could be this year’s surprise player out of Larry Johnson’s hat, but he could lose that title to another player who has been waiting in the wings, sixth-year Antwuan Jackson. Jackson began his college football career as a highly -ranked signee at Auburn. When that didn’t work out he entered junior college and then landed with the Buckeyes.
Jackson, Cage, Vincent and returner Haskell Garrett will be a foursome to be dealt with. Making things tougher for oppossing offenses is the fact that all four players are taking reps at both interior defensive line positions, nose tackle and three-technique. Johnson will be able to plug in quickness or power at either of those spots as he sees fit by the situation, and that’s bad news for offenses.
One more trick by the magician.