Football

Spring Gleaning: Buckeye Defensive Ends Much More Than Just the Zach and Jack Attack

Now that spring football is over, it’s time to look back at exactly what we just saw. We’ll go over each position group over the next two weeks with what was learned and what still needs to happen. Up next will be the Ohio State defensive ends.

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Quick Position Overview

Ohio State rotated five defensive ends last season and only lost Jonathon Cooper from that group. Junior Zach Harrison has emerged as a leader in the offseason, while fourth-year guys Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste all have starting experience. Five-star prospect Jack Sawyer was added in the winter and he’s lived up to his billing so far. Redshirt freshmen Darrion Henry-Young and Jacolbe Cowan are a year older, as is third-year sophomore Cormontae Hamilton. It’s a deep group that has not yet reached its potential.

Expectations Going In

The expectation before spring began was that all four of the veterans mentioned above would be able to get back to basics because they weren’t able to do so last year. Spring was canceled and fall camp wasn’t necessarily set up for improving, so this spring was going to be an opportunity for defensive line coach Larry Johnson to get his guys back in the workshop. But it was also expected that all four would take a step this year because they don’t have much more time left as Buckeyes.

Reality Coming Out

Larry Johnson went into spring looking to find the split seconds the defensive ends could have used last year as they came up just short of getting to the quarterback so many times last year. That process will continue, but he’s convinced they’re making headway. The staff has been effusive in its praise of Zach Harrison throughout and he has a refocused attitude that should get him where he wants to be. Tyreke Smith has dealt with injuries throughout his career but he came through spring healthy and is looking like the guy he always could have been. Then there is true freshman Jack Sawyer who could end up pushing everybody just a little bit more than they were anticipating.

Any Surprises?

Look, everybody thought Jack Sawyer may do something to impress people this spring and notching somewhere between three and six sacks in the spring game qualifies. The qualifier of that qualifier, however, is that his success wasn’t coming against starting offensive linemen. But that being said, he was still very impressive and didn’t necessarily have a reason to be. This is a guy who didn’t play high school football as a senior and as a junior had to help his team by playing quarterback and part-time defense. He spent his fall working towards being ready to enroll physically and it showed all spring long. He’s a quick learner and understands the importance of technique and the tools that Larry Johnson is providing him with.

Unanswered Question

There wasn’t much talk about what’s going on with the Rushmen package. Some of it was shown in the spring game with four defensive ends and no defensive tackles, but Larry Johnson likes the pass-rushing ability of tackles Haskell Garrett and Taron Vincent, so it will be interesting to see what kind of lineup the Rushmen is this year. It’s been a while since the Buckeyes had four defensive ends they could put out there and trust to get production. They may have that this year.

So Now What?

Now Larry Johnson waits until 5-star 2021 defensive end JT Tuimoloau takes his official visit to Ohio State. If all goes well, the Buckeyes could be adding another top pass rusher to this group this summer. Considering that OSU is on the verge of losing three defensive ends after this season, adding as much as talent as possible is important, and Tuimoloau may literally be “as much talent as possible.” Pairing him with Jack Sawyer could be a boon for the Buckeyes.

One Concern

Larry Johnson said this spring that Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith were his starters, which was a bit of a surprise considering he always talks about his defensive ends as a rotation rather than a duo. Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday have plenty of experience, but can they turn that experience and veteran knowledge into production this season?

Are We Sure?

Are we sure Jack Sawyer didn’t spend his senior season of high school at the WHAC?

Quotable

“It is absolutely the truth. You know he had a phenomenal seven weeks in the weight room, not just taking care of his business and his body but making sure that he’s holding others accountable. It’s really important I think especially for younger players to see guys who are great athletes that are also great workers and I think when your best players are your hardest workers, you got a chance to be good. And so we had some of those guys that aren’t here anymore that were those type of players and Zach stepped right in, filled that void, and was very, very impressive with his leadership. And he’s excited for the season. I’m really excited to watch him play.” – OSU defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs on Zach Harrison’s offseason heading into spring ball.

Depth Chart

9 Zach Harrison | Junior | 6-6 268
Following a strong winter and spring, Zach Harrison is expected to take the jump that people were expecting last year.
54 Tyler Friday | Senior | 6-3 260
Tyler Friday has been around forever and brings a veteran presence. He also has the ability to slide inside in the Rushmen package.
59 Darrion Henry | Redshirt Freshman | 6-4 265
Darrion Henry-Young had some strong moments in the spring game and while it will be tough to find a spot in the rotation this year, if he can be productive, snaps will be made available.
83 Cormontae Hamilton | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-2 265
The former tight end is still making strides at defensive end. It’s just a deep, veteran group right now and he’s got a tall hill to climb.
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11 Tyreke Smith | Senior | 6-3 260
There is just a feeling around the WHAC that Tyreke Smith is going to be special this year, provided he stays healthy.
8 Javontae Jean-Baptiste | Redshirt Junior | 6-5 253 | OR
Javontae Jean-Baptiste has always been a talented athlete and is always growing as a pass rusher.
33 Jack Sawyer | Freshman | 6-4 240
Larry Johnson won’t put too much on Jack Sawyer until he shows he can handle it, which will probably happen by the middle of August.
93 Jacolbe Cowan | Redshirt Freshman | 6-4 275
Jacolbe Cowan missed all of last year with an injury so just seeing him get out there this spring and play is a huge step for him.