Last month in the buildup to the early signing period for recruits, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson felt compelled to take to Twitter and write that, contrary to rumors, he had no plans for retirement. According to Johnson, you didn’t just read it right.
“You read it real right,” Johnson said.
Although in doing so, Johnson missed a chance to walk off with his arms raised high, especially after a 24-7 win over Southern California in the Cotton Bowl. His “Rushmen” front, including arguably the best collection of six defensive ends at Ohio State, sacked Sam Darnold eight times.
In the days after the game, the third-year sophomore quarterback declared for the NFL draft, meaning if he is going to get such poundings in the future, at least it will be while he’s getting paid.
“We talked about earlier in the year, I hate to sound bold, but we sought, we wanted to be the greatest defensive line ever to play at Ohio State University,” Johnson said. “That was our mantra going in.”
Their approach, then, to the Cotton Bowl was one final time, and with gusto. The front featured Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes in their final games. The day after the game, fourth-year junior Sam Hubbard said he was headed for the draft, too.
They were the veterans in a rotating corps of defensive ends that also featured sophomore Nick Bosa and saw more and more of freshman Chase Young and sophomore Jonathon Cooper as the season progressed.
But that dynamic up front seems destined for change in 2018.
In recruiting, the Buckeyes have added just one defensive end in Tyreke Smith, who committed last week and will be able to sign when the regular period opens Feb. 1. He would give them four defensive ends on scholarship, although Alex Williams of Pickerington North is being considered at both DE and tight end.
The Buckeyes also remain in pursuit of Tyler Friday of Ramsey, New Jersey.
“We’ll reload, and be just as good if not better,” Bosa said.
But it will a different kind of rotation.
“We’ll find some guys to play with (the returnees), we’ll make some changes, we’ll make sure those guys have a chance to stay fresh,” Johnson said. “We’re a long ways away from that, but I think we’ll be OK.”
Relief could come a deep group of defensive tackles.
The Buckeyes already have signed what 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong calls the top three-man defensive tackle group nationally: Taron Vincent, Tommy Togiai and Antwuan Jackson, a junior-college transfer who originally signed with Auburn in 2016.
Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones was said last week to be leaning toward staying for another season, and Robert Landers will return, along with Jashon Cornell, Davon Hamilton, Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage. And Malik Barrow will be coming back from injury.
Those coached by Johnson always have seen themselves as members of the defensive line group, not as ends or tackles. At least 12 took part in the rotation against USC.
“That’s just a little taste for what (people) are going to see next year, because the train hasn’t stopped,” Young said. “We’ve already taken off. It’s going to keep going. The bar’s going to be set higher for the D-linemen.”