Tyquan Lewis was asked recently what highly touted freshman Chase Young might have to do get on the field this season, considering Ohio State has four defensive ends in front of him.
Lewis politely corrected the questioner.
“Actually, we’ve got more than four,” he said, and he’s right.
Besides Lewis, the reigning defensive lineman of the year in the Big Ten, the end position is stacked with the likes of junior Sam Hubbard, senior Jalyn Holmes and sophomore Nick Bosa along with promising class of 2016 performer Jonathon Cooper.
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Considering the line also includes sophomores Dre’Mont Jones and Jashon Cornell, who play defensive tackle with a defensive end’s zeal, and the Buckeyes have a line of willing participants to take the field this season, especially on passing downs.
The talent is abundant. Lewis, Hubbard and Jones, for example, are considered possible first-round NFL picks in 2018 in a mock draft on CBSSports.com.
Which raises the original question: Can an extra player or two find meaningful time on the field this season? Lewis thinks so, based on defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s practice of rotating in fresh players.
“There’s a lot of reps in a football game,” Lewis said. “Sometimes there can be 90 to 100, you never know. But everybody gets a piece of the pie.”
That’s the plan, Johnson said, as long as the players reaching for the pie have proven they have a legitimate appetite.
“If you’ve shown you are capable of playing to the level we expect, we’ll try to find a way to get you on the field, no question,” Johnson said in the spring.
The payoff for the play-more approach is evident on video last season, when Johnson had the player rotation in full swing.
“We didn’t put any lazy, loafing plays on film,” Hubbard said. “That’s something I know at the next level (NFL) they don’t want to see. And for us to be going 100 percent every single rep is just a plus.”
There is a potential downside for players: The more they rotate in and out, the fewer chances they have to stuff the statistics sheet with tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hurries. Still, Hubbard said, the goal is to “to put the best film (showing) as we can.”
Through the spring and this preseason there was speculation that the Buckeyes could have four defensive ends plus Jones on the field at the same time in some situations, with Hubbard or Holmes dropping off and playing drag-route linebacker. That’s the kind of creative license Johnson, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and the rest of the staff have been given by coach Urban Meyer.
“We’ve got to find a way to get them on the field,” said Meyer, who demands sound formations but enjoys seeing speed come to bear.
Schiano understands the intrigue, and the next several weeks of practice headed toward the opener Aug. 31 at Indiana will help determine some things.
“It’s our job, and my job especially, to make sure that we have schemes that utilize our personnel, and we have really fine defensive ends,” Schiano said. “The more we can get them on the field, the better, but not at the cost of getting into things that we don’t understand. You have to find that sweet spot where you’re within your base of expertise yet you’re getting your best players on the field.”