When it comes to the Ohio State defensive line, there’s something in the water.
Ohio State has had to do a lot of reloading at the defensive line in recent years. Elite rushers like Joey Bosa and Nick Bosa have left their mark on the program and should have left huge holes to fill if it weren’t for the Buckeyes’ uncanny ability to replace them.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson has the daunting task of replacing Chase Young on the edge. Just like how the offense has to replace J.K. Dobbins‘ production, the defensive line is in a similar situation.
There is going to be a lot of youth on the Ohio State defensive line in 2020. But that’s never been a problem for Johnson in the past. Fortunately, the defensive line has always rotated regularly, so while most young players didn’t start they still got some valuable experience.
But with three of four starters headed pro, the line will be full of fresh faces.
Ohio State Defensive Line Breakdown
Experience isn’t the only thing that matters. Young and the Bosa brothers each got significant playing time in their first few seasons as Buckeyes. Will the next elite Ohio State edge rusher be a talented underclassman?
Obviously, the defensive end with the most snaps last season was Young. True freshman Zach Harrison had the second-most and is poised for a promising 2020. Now a sophomore, 6’6”, 265 lb Harrison has the raw talent to be able to replace Young. In 2019, he showed flashes of technique, strength, and pure athleticism. The only worry about Harrison is that he was given a lot of favorable looks playing opposite Young. When he is the featured edge rusher, he won’t get so many opportunities to be one-on-one against opposing tackles, and won’t have as many tight ends or running backs blocking him.
The most experienced returning player will be fifth-year senior Jonathon Cooper. Because of an ankle injury, he took a redshirt last season to extend his eligibility. He has 37 games of experience, which is more than most of the other defensive ends combined.
Tyreke Smith will join Cooper as one of the few upperclassmen on the defensive line. The junior was a regular in the rotation last year, so he and Cooper will be the experienced leaders.
The more interesting depth pieces on the end are junior Tyler Friday, redshirt sophomore Javontae Jean-Baptiste, and redshirt freshman Noah Potter. Friday and Jean-Baptiste also rotated in last year, and probably start at many other programs in the country. Potter, brother of former Ohio State Basketball play Micah Potter, is a four-star recruit and at 6’6”, 275 lbs, is a physical presence on the line.
The biggest losses were to the interior of the line, but there is still plenty of experience there.
Seniors Haskell Garrett and Antwuan Jackson will be the most experienced players on the inside. Garrett has 33 games of experience as a Buckeye, and Jackson is a JUCO transfer who initially enrolled at Auburn.
Another candidate to be the next man up at defensive tackle will be Tommy Togiai. He was a highly sought after recruit but had to sit behind Hamilton for his first two years. Whether he is a “starter” or not, he will cycle in enough to have a huge impact on the game.
The interior is top-heavy with upperclassmen, so younger players like Jaden McKenzie, Brett Novick, Taron Vincent, and Jacolbe Cowan will spend a lot of time on the bench. But the way that Ohio State rotates the defensive line, they will get chances to develop and try to win more snaps.
Somewhere in Between
It’s not unusual for players to show up to college and change positions. This defensive line has a couple of players who will move around.
The first is Darrion Henry-Young. He’s an incoming freshman who 247sports.com ranked the number two player in Ohio. Henry-Young is played as a defensive tackle in high school, though he’s listed as “DL” on the teams’ website. Because of his taller and leaner frame at 6’4”, 275 lbs, he might make the move to defensive end.
The other player changing positions will be making a more extreme change, switching sides of the ball. Cormontae Hamilton came in as a tight end, but is now listed as “DL.” Hamilton is 6’2”, 265 lbs, so is short for a tight end. Ryan Day talked about moving him to either end or tackle. Tight ends who move to defense typically play end, but his dimensions might make him more of a tackle.