Could freshman Jack Sawyer find a role in Ohio State's defensive end rotation?

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Jack Sawyer skipped his senior season of high school football at Pickerington North.

It was a decision made in August, as the five-star defensive end prospect set his sights on enrolling early at Ohio State and the prep season in the state was embroiled in uncertainty before games would ultimately go off in the fall.

Participating in spring practice with the Buckeyes over the past month, Sawyer has made a fast impression.

Freshman defensive end Jack Sawyer practices on March 19. Line coach Larry Johnson hinted at a likely spot in the rotation for Sawyer next season.

Last week, he became one of the first freshmen to lose his black helmet stripe, and defensive line coach Larry Johnson praised his transition, hinting at a likely spot for Sawyer in the rotation in the upcoming season.  

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“We’re going to find a role for him if he continues to work hard and do the things we're asking,” Johnson said. “We'll find a place to play him. I've never been afraid to play freshman players. If you got a chance to be in that five or six defensive-end roll, we're going to find a role for you. You can be sure of that.”

Johnson’s pronouncement is only a bit of surprise considering the Buckeyes’ depth at defensive end.

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Two returners in Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith have previous starting experience, while Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste have also been recent mainstays in the rotation.

As promising as Sawyer may have looked in practice in recent weeks, there is a finite number of snaps to go around among the linemen.

But Johnson is bullish on Sawyer, a talented pass rusher who was ranked as the fourth overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, according to the composite rankings from 247Sports.

He also noted that Sawyer, listed as 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds on the spring roster, had a leg up on other recruited freshmen. By growing up in the suburbs of Columbus, he was able to more easily attend prospect camps held in the summer at Ohio State in which he picked up a variety of defensive line skills and techniques taught by Johnson.

Johnson called it a huge advantage.

“Because he's been here, he understands our system,” Johnson said. “He's playing really well. The thing I like about Jack is he's a fierce competitor. He hates to lose. He wants to win every rep, and I love that about him. I think he's going to be a special player down the road. 

"I want to wait and see as we get into the fall, go through the spring and summer workouts, but I certainly like where he's at right now in his development."

Veteran teammates have taken notice of the speed of the freshman’s transition.

“He's picking up fast,” Smith said. “He’s going to be a tremendous player.”

Smith added there have been few setbacks.

“Every day I feel like he's getting better,” he said. “His rushes, and I feel like he's getting stronger as a player.”

As the Buckeyes go through their final week of spring practice, ending with the spring game on Saturday, Johnson thought the prospect of playing time served as a motivating force.

A chance to see the field lingers at the forefront of most players’ minds.

“I think the most important thing is that when a kid feels like he has a role, he'll work hard at it,” Johnson said. “If I can give him a role early on and say, ‘This is what I want you to do and be the best at it,' I think he'll do that. And that's what we're going to have to do — find a role for him as he goes forward. But he's got to earn it, and that's the biggest thing.”

Ohio State spring game sold out

General admission tickets for Saturday’s spring football game are sold out, a school spokesman said. The news came less than 24 hours after 4,500 tickets went on sale on Monday.

Capacity at Ohio Stadium is limited because of the coronavirus pandemic and will be capped at 19,180.

About half of the limited number of seats have been reserved for front-line health care workers, given out through the university’s Wexner Medical Center. An allotment of 2,500 tickets was also set aside for students  

No general admission tickets had been available for the Buckeyes’ three home games last fall, leaving the upcoming spring game as the first opportunity for fans to sit inside the Horseshoe for a football event since late 2019.

Tickets were sold at $5 per seat by the school as in previous years. But ticket prices have since been much higher on various resale websites.

The Buckeyes drew an announced crowd of 61,102 for the spring game in 2019.

Last year’s spring game was canceled amid the onset of the pandemic.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman