In a year of impressive true freshman performances for the Buckeyes last season, defensive tackle Tyleik Williams’ output may have been the flashiest.
Despite nine other defensive linemen playing more snaps than Williams did last year, only Haskell Garrett came away with more sacks. Garrett finished with a team-high 5.5, while Williams finished with 5.0 despite playing 200+ fewer snaps than the departed senior.
And of those nine defensive linemen, only Garrett and Zach Harrison finished with more than Williams’ 6.5 tackles for loss. Garrett and his 200 more snaps, along with Harrison and his 300 more snaps, each finished with one-half more tackles for loss than Williams.
So why didn’t Williams play more last year if he was so productive? Because “flashy” is not always a good thing.
“I think the difference now is he’s in much better shape than he was,” Day said of Williams this week. “That usually happens to those defensive tackles. His body’s very different. He can go for an extended period of time. I think when he first got here, he’d flash for like one or two plays.”
Williams certainly flashed early for the Buckeyes, notching four sacks in his first five games. Despite coming to Ohio State and being seen as a big, run-stopping, 330-pound nose tackle, Williams showed everybody that he was much more than that and much more explosive than many anticipated.
Day and defensive line coach Larry Johnson saw that athleticism in recruiting and it has held true at Ohio State to this day, but there is still work to be done if Williams is going to see as much time on the field as he would like.
“You always saw his athleticism,” Day said. “Like tremendously athletic. One of the better athletes we have on our team, believe it or not. Just like from 0 to 10 yards, he has one of our better times, which we have some really good athletes. He’s very, very athletic, but it’s the ability to sustain. And that’s the thing that he’s gotten much better at.”
After sitting behind guys like Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent last season, Williams is now on his way to playing a much larger part in the Ohio State defensive tackle rotation. The work started shortly after last season ended. It is no longer a mystery to Williams what needs to happen in order for him to see more snaps. Especially since so much time is being spent on getting him ready to make that happen.
“I think in this game, it’s different than playing basketball where you pace yourself up and down the floor, maybe soccer where you’re kind of going back and forth,” Day explained. “This game is about short, explosive movements for four to six seconds. Kind of like hockey where there’s line changes, how hard can you go? If you can go really hard for one play, good. Then tomorrow hopefully you can go for two, then you try to go for three. And if you can only do that, then yeah, we have to sub you out. But the great ones, they can go for an extended period of time and and that’s what we’re striving for. But if they can’t, then just try to give us as hard as you can for a couple plays and we’ll get you out.”
Given his production in limited snaps last year, nobody wants to see more from Williams than Ryan Day and Larry Johnson. But playing snap after snap after snap, run after run after run, is a much different world than coming in for a few snaps and then jogging back off the field so the vets can handle the grunt work.
Tyleik Williams is now a veteran of one season as a Buckeye. The work is being put in to make his second season even more productive than his first.
“I think the challenge that probably Coach Johnson has for him is just his ability to sustain,” Day said. “But then also in the run game, being strong and stout play after play after play, because that’s really at defensive tackle what it is. You have to be able to get in there and play for an extended period of time. Just a flash, one or two plays, doesn’t quite get it done at this level. But that’s maturity. And that’s where he’s going. But he flashed again today at practice.”