Ohio State football spring position analysis: Defensive line again boasts talent, depth

Bill Rabinowitz

Editor’s note: The Ohio State football team will conclude its spring practices at noon Saturday in the annual spring game in Ohio Stadium.

The spring game is a game in name only, of course. For the most part it is a modified scrimmage, the last of the Buckeyes’ 15 permissible practices in the spring.

But first-year OSU coach Ryan Day and his assistants will be looking to see how their new team responds in a competitive setting — albeit against teammates — and in front of a large crowd.

Ohio State drew more than 100,000 fans for a spring game a few years ago, and more than 80,000 last year despite stadium renovations. The capacity for this year’s game will be about 76,000.

With that backdrop, in the days leading up to the spring game, The Dispatch will assess where the Buckeyes stand at key positions.

>> Spring position analysis: Linebackers looking for a jump-start

>> Spring position analysis: Specialists seeking top gunners

>> Spring position analysis: Offensive line in a rebuilding mode

Today: Offensive line

Position coach: Larry Johnson (sixth season).

Key losses: DE Nick Bosa (4 sacks in three games before season-ending injury); DT Dre’Mont Jones (13 tackles for loss, including 8½ sacks).

Key returnees: DE Chase Young (34 tackles, 15½ tackles for loss, 10½ sacks, 9 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles); DT Robert Landers (25 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack); DE Jonathon Cooper (25 tackles, 6½ TFL, 2½ sacks), DT Davon Hamilton (16 tackles, 3½ TFL), DE/DT Jashon Cornell (15 tackles, 2 TFL), DT Tommy Togiai (10 tackles, 2 TFL), DE Tyreke Smith (9 tackles), DT Haskell Garrett (7 tackles).

New to view: Defensive end Zach Harrison from Olentangy Orange is a five-star freshman with unlimited potential, though he is raw and will be worked in gradually. Look for young returnees like Tyler Friday, Taron Vincent and Javontae Jean-Baptiste, as well as upperclassman Antwuan Jackson, to battle to join what Johnson wants to be a deep rotation. Freshman Noah Potter asked to wear the No. 97 made famous by the Bosa brothers, so he’s not shrinking from high expectations.

Unit ranking (on a 1 to 5 basis, 5 being the best): 4. The Buckeyes were without Nick Bosa most of last year and knew they would lose Dre’Mont Jones to the NFL. The headliner here is Young, who has the ability to become a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. Cooper, too, believes he’s ready for a breakout senior season. Smith might be the most promising of a talented group of younger players, and Harrison could be the wild card if he develops quickly.

Stat that worked: The Buckeyes had 41 sacks last year even without Bosa for most of the year. With a few exceptions, Ohio State’s pass rush was consistent. Young is likely to hit double-digit sacks again. Who else will complement him and provide pressure on the quarterback game-in and game-out?

Stat that must change: The Buckeyes allowed 4.5 yards per rush. Obviously, the defensive line bears only part of the responsibility. But long runs can only happen if the defensive line doesn’t at least slow the runner. Too often, that didn’t happen.

Notable: Landers hasn’t participated much or at all in spring practice as he rehabs from several injuries described as minor. Cornell, who has shifted back and forth between end and tackle during his career, is back at tackle this spring, specifically the 3-technique position played by Jones.

Series schedule

Monday: Offensive line

Tuesday: Defensive line

Wednesday: Linebackers, specialists

Thursday: Quarterbacks, receivers

Friday: Running backs, defensive backs

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