Ohio State has lost starter Jonathon Cooper from this group but return everyone else and arguably the top freshman in the nation in Jack Sawyer. Seniors Tyler Friday and Tyreke Smith are experienced and hungry, while juniors Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Zach Harrison are looking to round out a talented four-man rotation. Smith might end up being the best defensive end in the conference — if Harrison doesn’t beat him to it. This spring, however, will also be about getting younger guys some reps and experience, since there was so little of it last year.
Spring Depth Chart
11 Tyreke Smith (Sr)
8 Javontae Jean-Baptiste (rJr)
NA Jack Sawyer (Fr)
97 Noah Potter (rSoph)
54 Tyler Friday (Sr) OR
9 Zach Harrison (Jr)
59 Darrion Henry-Young (rFr) OR
83 Cormontae Hamilton (rSoph) OR
93 Jacolbe Cowan (rFr)
- What will Jack Sawyer show this spring?
- Will there be any position moves from end to tackle?
- Can the talented vets take that final step towards reaching their respective potentials?
The expectation for the Buckeyes this spring at defensive end is for the top four of Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, Zach Harrison, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste to lead the group — and lead them well. These are four vets, all who were part of a five-man rotation last year and all with starting experience even before last season. Because of this experience, they probably won’t need too many reps (unless Ohio State is moving to a 3-4 or 3-3-5 (which they probably aren’t)), which is good because there are some youngsters who could use some teaching moments. Especially when you consider that it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Buckeyes lose at least three of those vets to the NFL after this season, so any experience the younger guys get this year will be a welcome result in 2022. As an aside, don’t get hung up on the depth chart listed above. It’s the four veterans in a rotating role and then any kind of mixture you like behind them. The pecking for this order has yet to be done.
What Needs to Happen
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson needs to figure out who are defensive ends and who are defensive tackles. There has been talk from outside the football facilities about Tyler Friday moving, but that seems unlikely because of how much they like him at defensive end. But what about redshirt freshmen Jacolbe Cowan and Darrion Henry-Young, both of whom were listed as defensive tackles as recruits. Heck, Cowan is currently listed as a defensive tackle on OSU’s official roster from last year. Then there’s redshirt sophomore Cormontae Hamilton who moved from tight end and was thought to be going to defensive tackle, but showed up at defensive end last year instead. Assuming nobody has been moved yet, Johnson needs to see everybody in action at defensive end to see if they have what he’s looking for. And all of this may be done with the idea that they’ll be adding 5-star defensive end JT Tuimoloau following spring ball.
The worst case here would be the Buckeyes not having anybody to add to their already deep rotation, which means they’d still have the best group of defensive ends in the Big Ten. Barring injuries, Ohio State’s worst case at defensive end is once again everybody else’s best case. You won’t find an unhappy coach in the conference if they were suddenly saddled with Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, Zach Harrison, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste. But if none of the young players push to make it into the rotation, that would be a disappointment. While there isn’t always a ton of snaps in a rotation for a fifth defensive end, Larry Johnson would welcome a fifth man so that he can start filling that player’s tool box with the equipment that he will need in 2022.
Keep An Eye On
It will be interesting to watch the younger guys and to hear what their teammates and coaches say about them throughout camp. While so much talk will be surrounding Jack Sawyer, this has to motivate Noah Potter, Cormontae Hamilton, Darrion Henry-Young, and Jacolbe Cowan. They don’t want a younger player passing them by. However, if that does happen, that can sometimes be all the motivation a defensive end needs to stop holding up a move to defensive tackle. In 2013, Adolphus Washington was a defensive end for the Buckeyes until he got hurt early in the season and watched Joey Bosa step in and fill his vacated role. Washington realized that his ultimate future was at defensive tackle, where he eventually became an All-American. Which light clicks for these guys, and how bright will it be?
One Last Thing
There are legitimate reasons why some call Jack Sawyer “the third Bosa brother” but that doesn’t mean it all has to happen this spring. He missed his senior season of high school football, so the timing may be off for a bit. That being said, don’t be surprised if he’s the real deal right away. Sure, he opted out of his high school season, but he did that when the Ohio high school football season was in doubt and the Big Ten was going to be playing in the winter/spring (remember that?) and he thought he’d be able to play right away. Instead, the Big Ten played in the fall and Sawyer spent his walkabout year training for this very moment. The reports this winter have all been right in line with Sawyer being an impact freshman, so it should be fun to watch what happens this spring for one of the top signees in the 2021 class.