Chase Young said that it’s a frequent topic of conversation.
Ohio State lost three defensive ends to the NFL draft in April. Other than Nick Bosa, the returning Buckeyes at that position have limited experience.
But the standard of play for Ohio State defensive ends has been set. In their minds, it can only rise, not fall.
“We talk about it all the time,” Young said during spring practice. “We can be and we will be the best D-line in the nation — the best tandem, the best triplets, whatever you want to call it.”
Even with the losses of such decorated players as Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes, Young’s words shouldn’t be dismissed as idle boasting. First, there’s Bosa. Anything less than a season in which the junior is a consensus All-American would be a disappointment.
But then there are the other defensive ends, with Young at the front of the line. As a true freshman last season, the Maryland native flashed his immense ability. He had 3½ sacks, and his size and quickness made him instantly noticeable.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson is clearly fond of Young, but during spring practice his praise was a bit muted. He spoke about the need for Young to develop his “toolbox,” to become a craftsman at his position, not someone who relied on natural ability.
Position coaches are allowed to work with their players on a limited basis during the summer, and Johnson raved about Young’s growth since April.
“I think he’s probably about 20 percent better from spring ball to where he’s at now,” he said last week. “That’s a pretty good increase. He’s stronger in the weight room. His work ethic has really taken off. You can see the sense of urgency to be great, and that’s what you want to see in a young player.”
He said that Young was like most blue-chip players. They dominated in high school and don’t realize right away what a jump the college game is.
“He came with a lot of expectations and he probably put too much pressure on himself that it was going to happen easily,” Johnson said. “But it’s college football. You’ve got to work at it, too. I think that’s what he found out as the season went on.”
Young is also still growing into his body. He has grown a foot since he was 5 feet 6 as an eighth-grader and has added at least 16 pounds (to 268) since he enrolled at Ohio State
“My dad is 6-10,” he said. “I hope I don’t grow anymore.”
Last year, Holmes predicted that Young would eventually be the top overall pick in the NFL draft, as much because of his competitive drive as his talent. Now it’s time to show it.
The same goes for Jonathon Cooper, a junior from Gahanna and like Young a five-star recruit.
“He’s a different player right now,” Johnson said. “He really is. He’s always been a hard worker. Now he’s really refined his technique in the run and pass game and really embraced the leadership role. He’s everything we thought he would be going into his third year.”
Add in redshirt junior Jashon Cornell, who’s back at end after time as a tackle, and several talented newcomers, and Johnson’s optimism is similar to Young’s.
“I think the bar has been set very high in our room,” Johnson said. “Defensive end is a very high-profile position, and I think our guys are embracing that. I’m really looking forward to the fall because I think these guys are going to do great things.”