It will not be sufficient for the Ohio State defensive line to be considered great in 2017.
The players are seeking to be legendary. They want to be the best in Ohio State’s history. They want to be the best ever in college football.
Measuring that is impossible. But the Buckeyes want you to know it when you see it.
“We want to be remembered as the best defensive line, a complete defensive line,” defensive end Tyquan Lewis said Thursday. “We want to be remembered as that defensive line that everybody talks about — to go down in history. That’s what we’re working for and aspire to be.”
Despite losing three starters, including Joey Bosa, from the 2015 team, Ohio State’s defensive line became a strength a year ago. Lewis was the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year and surprised many by returning for his senior year. Sam Hubbard grew into a star. Jalyn Holmes and Nick Bosa would start almost anywhere else.
“At defensive end, we’ll be as good as anybody in America,” coach Urban Meyer said this week.
On the interior, steady nose guard Michael Hill teamed with three-technique tackle Dre’Mont Jones, who emerged as a budding star as a redshirt freshman after Tracy Sprinkle was injured in the opener. Indications are that Sprinkle is rehabbing well. Add to the mix 2016 surprise Robert Landers, soon-to-arrive five-star freshman Chase Young and several young players dealing with injuries such as Jonathon Cooper and Davon Hamilton, and there is no denying that it’s a loaded line.
The biggest question might be finding enough snaps for all who deserve them, but position coach Larry Johnson isn’t worried about that. He said that Lewis averaged only 45 snaps per game last year. Spreading the load keeps everyone fresh.
Meyer spoke of using five linemen at times, a turbo version of their four-defensive end package last year, with the idea being that Hubbard could line up as an end/linebacker hybrid. Johnson said that such a formation hasn’t gone beyond the theoretical phase, but his players are excited about the idea.
“We have so many good players that it’s criminal not to have them on the field,” Bosa said. “Dre’Mont has to be one of the best three-technique pressurers. He didn’t have any sacks last year because I was running in for him on nickel.”
Sacks can be an overrated statistic for a defensive line — sometimes pressures can be more damaging — but Johnson wants to see more of them. Ohio State had 28 a year ago, ranking just 58th nationally. An emphasis this spring has been getting a quicker and longer first step off the snap.
“We deflected the ball,” Johnson said. “We got some knockdowns. We took balls (for turnovers). That’s all great. But at the end of the day, we have to put the quarterback on his back.”
If that happens consistently, the Buckeyes’ goal of staking their claim as a legendary unit is realistic.
“We talk about it every day,” Holmes said. “A lot of times on Saturday nights when everybody on campus is doing (their thing), we’re all together talking about what we can do and what we’ve got to do to be that. It’s a constant goal for us to be the best."
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