Football

JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, ‘These are guys that do not have limitations’

Last year as true freshmen, Ohio State defensive ends JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer both had their moments in limited opportunities. Despite playing 270 fewer snaps than Tyreke Smith and over 330 fewer snaps than Zach Harrison, Sawyer tied both Smith and Harrison for the team lead in sacks by a defensive end (3.0).

Tuimoloau, meanwhile, didn’t arrive until nearly the eve of fall camp, but he finished third among OSU’s defensive ends (behind Harrison and Smith) with 5.5 tackles for loss. His 17 tackles last year were also third among defensive ends behind Harrison and Smith.

The Buckeyes lose Tyreke Smith, but still return three senior defensive ends this year in Harrison, Tyler Friday, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste. Despite the presence of that kind of seniority, it hasn’t kept the attention away from Tuimoloau and Sawyer, especially when it comes to the expectations surrounding new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ more aggressive defense.

At Oklahoma State previously, Knowles’ weakside defensive end (also known as the “Jack” and eventually the “Leo”) became a marquee position. Last year, that position was handled by Brock Martin and Collin Oliver, and they combined for 29.5 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks for the Cowboys.

This year at Ohio State, Sawyer will be one of the defensive ends manning that position, and he liked what he got to see of Knowles in the spring.

“He’s a mad scientist when it comes to x and O’s,” Sawyer said.

And after spending so much time together in “the laboratory” this spring, what does Knowles expect from Sawyer this year?

“Everything. I expect Jack to be able to do everything,” Knowles said following spring ball. “To be able to play any of the defensive end positions. To be able to play our Jack position, to learn the system well enough to move into that Leo role. I think he’s got great potential. I like his attitude. I like his toughness. So I just expect him to continue the work he did in the spring and be great.”

Knowles has also been asked about Tuimoloau in that Jack role and while he thinks he can handle it, it’s not necessarily in the cards right now. That doesn’t mean Knowles has any different expectations for Tuimoloau.

“Everything. These are guys that do not have limitations,” Knowles said. “They do not have limitations. And it’s my job to grow them, to put them into the different positions to succeed, to be able to utilize their skills for the fullest. But there’s no limits on their success.”

Wherever Tuimoloau lines up, he’ll have a much better idea of what is required of him. Not just because he’s a year older, but because he’s a year better as well.

“I think having a whole season, playing a game, getting all the freshman jitters out, now I know what it feels like to play in the Shoe or play in a different stadium,” Tuimoloau said this spring. “After having that whole season, it’s just like, ‘Okay, now we know what to expect. Let’s get better. And let’s keep grinding every day.'”

Sawyer enrolled in the winter last year to put himself in a better position to see the field as a freshman. Tuimoloau, meanwhile, enrolled in the summer, but also showed up ready to play. So much so that he was in the starting lineup in weeks four and five for the Buckeyes.

“Yeah, that’s an outlier. That doesn’t happen very often. It doesn’t,” OSU strength coach Mickey Marotti said of Tuimoloau following spring camp. “He’s much improved. Obviously bigger, faster and stronger and more mature. And has been through the program now through a year. He should take that next step.”

Together, the potential of Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau has plenty of people excited, including the players themselves.

“Me and JT are good buddies,” Sawyer said. “He’s put the work in this offseason. We work out together almost every day. It’s gonna be exciting to see what me and him to do this year.”