Football

Spring Breakdown: Defensive Tackles an Intriguing Mix of Experience and Youth

Snapshot

Ohio State is only replacing one defensive tackle from last year’s roster, but it’s a big one. Nose tackle Tommy Togiai left early for the NFL and in so doing, left a void at an important spot for the Buckeye defense. On the plus side, Haskell Garrett chose to utilize the free year from the NCAA and opted to return for a fifth season. Any time you can get a First-Team All-American to return, it’s a good day. He will lead a group that has plenty of options, but not a lot of production.

Spring Depth Chart

Three Tech
92 Haskell Garrett Sr
6 Taron Vincent Sr
90 Jaden McKenzie rSoph

Nose Tackle
52 Antwuan Jackson rSr
98 Jerron Cage rSr OR
58 Ty Hamilton rFr
NA Tyleik Williams Fr

Three Questions

  1. Will any defensive ends be moving to defensive tackle?
  2. Will they keep Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent at the same position?
  3. Can Antwuan Jackson and Jerron Cage hold down the fort?

Expectations

This being Ohio State and Ohio State having Larry Johnson as the defensive line coach, the expectations are that no matter who you lose, there should be somebody ready to replace them. The situation at three technique should be fine with Haskell Garrett and whoever else (more help is also arriving in the summer). Taron Vincent is expected to be healthy and at his most productive in 2021. He should show up quite a bit this spring. Antwuan Jackson would also help himself by stepping up as a leader on the defensive line, which he should since he’s going into his fourth year as a Buckeye. Jerron Cage also has plenty of experience. There is still a path to playing time for the young guys and this spring will be an opportunity to find it.

What Needs to Happen

The Buckeyes need to figure out what they are going to do at nose tackle. Is this a situation like linebacker or offensive line where the coaches look for their best three linebackers and five best linemen and then figure out how to slot them in? If Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent are the top two defensive tackles, can one of them play nose? If one of them does move, then they need to figure out who the backup at three tech is. That probably won’t be difficult, but whoever that guy is needs to be able to play. A backup at a position that rotates who can’t be trusted will eventually lead to a worn out starter. One way to steal some snaps without having defensive tackle depth is with three and four defensive ends lined up in the Rushmen Package. But maybe Antwuan Jackson has shown that there’s no need to move anybody.

Larry Johnson will keep a close eye on his defensive tackles this year.

Worst Case

Right now, the top four interior linemen are Haskell Garrett, Taron Vincent, Antwuan Jackson, and Jerron Cage. Is that good enough to win a national title with? Perhaps, but it certainly needs to get better and get deeper. The worst case here is that the young guys remain unreliable and the Buckeyes have to continue to rely on just four players — some of whom may be getting the bulk of their playing time simply because there’s nobody else to take it from them. That’s not how a national title is won, so the hope for Ohio State here is that veterans play their absolute best this spring and are also pushed by the unproven youngsters.

Keep An Eye On

There are a number of young defensive linemen who have yet to make a mark yet, so that could start happening this spring. Where will Ty Hamilton line up? Maybe that depends on where Taron Vincent and Haskell Garrett are situated. Hamilton was getting work as an undersized nose tackle last year but has continued to get bigger and stronger. Jaden McKenzie has spent much of his career dealing with injuries, so the Buckeyes may not even entirely know what to expect from him this spring. The possibility of some young guys moving from defensive end is out there as well. Cormontae Hamilton, Darrion Henry-Young, and Jacolbe Cowan could all be candidates. Hamilton moved over from tight end to defensive end last year and played about 16 snaps. Both Henry-Young and Cowan were considered defensive tackles by the recruiting services, but neither arrived at OSU looking like defensive tackles. Both played defensive end last year and only Henry-Young saw action. Has one or both grown into a defensive tackle at this point? Tyler Friday is also a popular name when discussing a move to defensive tackle, but Larry Johnson really likes him at defensive end. That being said, this spring could be a good time to tinker — plus, it may allow for more reps from 5-star freshman Jack Sawyer at defensive end.

One Last Thing

Freshman Tyleik Williams is listed by the recruiting services as 6-foot-3 and 330 pounds, so he fits more of the nose tackle mode. He is already enrolled and has already turned some heads. In fact, his athleticism could actually allow him to play either of the interior spots. The fact that he is already on campus is going to help Larry Johnson figure out how to replace Tommy Togiai. He may not actually win a starting job, but if he shows himself capable, he could upgrade the two-deep. The Buckeyes will also be adding freshman Mike Hall in the summer, as well as possibly 5-star defensive end JT Tuimoloau, who many think will ultimately end up at three tech. This spring, however, Williams and Ty Hamilton are two guys to pay attention to. If you are hearing good things about them, consider that good news. If you’re not hearing anything, consider that a bit of a surprise.


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