OSU's Smith just beginning at defensive end

Bill Rabinowitz

Big dreams begin with small details.

Ohio State defensive end Tyreke Smith understands this. That’s why the sophomore pores over video with position coach Larry Johnson.

Smith played in 11 games last year as a freshman, enough to establish himself as perhaps the most promising of the Buckeyes’ defensive linemen from the 2018 recruiting class. But he knows that potential must turn into consistent production in 2019.

That’s why he spends so much time with Johnson studying film and perfecting drills. Johnson pointed out, for example, that Smith’s hips were too low in his pre-snap stance. That limited his explosiveness, one of his strengths.

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“We’d go in to (watch) film, and he wouldn’t even start the play,” Smith said.

Instead, Johnson would pause the video to show Smith the flaw.

“I wasn’t elongating my step,” Smith said. “My first step was the first thing I had to fix. We worked countless drills. I feel that’s been the biggest improvement for me. It gets me off the ball faster.”

Smith also is studying video so that he can learn to diagnose plays better, whether it’s by studying an offensive lineman’s stance or the alignment of the running back.

“Last year I watched film, but this year I’m really taking the initiative and going in every day after practice to watch film,” he said. “I’m making sure my technique is right and making sure that I can see plays before they happen so I can play faster.”

Speed already is a big part of Smith’s game. He has rare quickness for a 6-foot-4, 267-pounder, and he has all the physical tools to join the procession of elite Ohio State defensive ends.

His time is now. Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper are the projected starters, but Johnson uses a deep rotation. The Cleveland Heights product has the chance to earn plenty of snaps.

Johnson is cautious in his praise for Smith, for obvious reasons. As promising as Smith was last year in his role in the “Rushmen” package, he didn’t have a sack and had only nine tackles (one solo).

“Tyreke has always been quick,” Johnson said. “He’s always been in great shape. Now it’s just learning how to play football. Last year was a big learning experience. Now we see the player it’s possible he can be.”

That’s why Smith is trying to be a sponge, taking in as much knowledge as Johnson and Ohio State’s older linemen can provide.

“I’m trying to be noticed as one of the best D-linemen in the country,” he said.

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For the first time since 2012, the Buckeyes won’t have a Bosa as a defensive end. Young is a star, but Ohio State needs its young players to take that jump. Johnson mentioned Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday as others from the 2018 recruiting class who also are developing well.

“I’m really hoping those guys step up really big for us,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re doing this spring. That’s why we’re soaking those guys a lot to get them ready to go.”

Smith believes he and his linemates will be.

“We always talk about it — me, Tommy (Togiai), Taron (Vincent), Tyler. We know we’re not freshmen anymore. We have to step up and be key parts of the defense.”

As for himself, Smith said last year’s flashes were just a glimpse of what he can become.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Definitely just the beginning.”


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