As Ohio State opens spring football practice next week, The Dispatch will preview each position group. Today: Defensive line.
Returnees: DT Jerron Cage, redshirt junior; DE Jonathon Cooper, fifth-year senior; DE Tyler Friday, junior; DT Haskell Garrett, senior; DE Zach Harrison, sophomore; DT Antwaun Jackson, fifth-year senior; DE Javontae Jean-Baptiste, redshirt sophomore; DE Tyreke Smith, junior; Tommy Togiai, junior; DT Taron Vincent, redshirt sophomore; DT Jaden McKenzie, redshirt freshman; DE Noah Potter, redshirt freshman
Departures: DT Jashon Cornell, DT DaVon Hamilton, DT Robert Landers, DE Chase Young
Early-enrollee freshmen: Jacolbe Cowan, Darrion Henry-Young
Summer-enrollee freshman: Ty Hamilton
Chase Young was a pretty important piece on Ohio State’s top-ranked defense last fall. He buried quarterbacks in the backfield and put pressure on them to unload passes sooner than they’d like.
It had a great effect. Sacks, as well as tackles for loss, stalled opposing teams’ drives. Hurried throws fell incomplete or were picked off.
Few players remaining in college football can replicate Young’s singular dominance as a pass rusher.
Yet it feels like the Buckeyes’ defensive line will be in good shape as they prepare for next season, even without the presumptive No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft.
Start with Larry Johnson, the revered defensive line coach, who has a track record of successfully replacing high-level pass rushers who were top draft picks, including Nick Bosa last year and older brother Joey Bosa in 2016.
Since his arrival at Ohio State in 2014, Johnson has cultivated depth, and this season’s roster is no exception. Talented defensive ends are waiting in the wings even if it likely will take a by-committee approach to replace Young.
Zach Harrison, a former five-star recruit from Olentangy Orange, got quite a bit of playing time through the rotation as a freshman last season. He was on the field for 281 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus’ tally, the second-most among defensive ends.
Harrison finished with 3½ sacks, including one when he filled in for the suspended Young for two games in November.
On Ohio State’s updated spring roster, Harrison was listed as 6 feet 6 and 265 pounds, an inch taller than Young was listed last season.
The other promising pass rusher is Tyreke Smith, who had been anticipated to see a breakout season last fall before he was limited for a few games due to injuries, including recovery from groin surgery and a broken hand.
Optimism around Smith is due to his long, 6-4 frame and athleticism, promising a quick burst at the line of scrimmage to charge toward the pocket.
"He’s a twitchy guy," Young said last season of Smith.
But Smith will need to remain healthy, as will Jonathon Cooper, who returns as the sort of an X-factor of the group of returning defensive ends.
Ahead of his promising senior season in which he was pegged to start opposite Young, Cooper suffered a high ankle sprain and never fully recovered.
It led him to take advantage of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule. Cooper appeared in only one of the team’s final four games in order to preserve his redshirt, allowing him to return for a fifth season.
All three of them, plus others including Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste, will be counted upon to take on more prominent roles and continue the trend that Johnson has established.