Freshman Jack Sawyer offers glimpse of potential during Ohio State spring football game
Lined up along the edge of the defensive line, both of his hands resting on the Ohio Stadium turf, Jack Sawyer shot out of his stance.
It was late in the first quarter of Ohio State’s spring game on Saturday afternoon when the freshman defensive end first displayed a glimpse of his quickness, getting off at the line of scrimmage and bursting into the backfield.
Chris Kuhn backpedaled in an effort to head off Sawyer, but the walk-on right tackle was overmatched and soon appeared off balance.
It left Sawyer with a pathway to reach quarterback Kyle McCord, pushing Kuhn in his direction. Little more than a second of clock elapsed before officials whistled the play dead and scorekeepers credited him with a sack.
Defensive players were prohibited from hitting the quarterbacks, who wore black no-contact jerseys, during the intrasquad scrimmage, and considering the pressure brought on by Sawyer over the two hours, it was a good thing for the health of the passers.
A former five-star recruit from Pickerington North High School who was ranked as the fourth overall prospect in the class of 2021, Sawyer made one of the biggest impressions on the final day of spring practice at Ohio State, finishing with three sacks.
It was an eye-opener for the announced crowd of 19,180 about the speed of his adjustment to college, but for the Buckeyes who have watched him up close for the past month, it was a familiar sight.
“What you saw today was pretty much every practice out there,” coach Ryan Day said.
The progress of Sawyer this offseason had made him appear destined for a spot in the defensive line rotation come fall.
Ohio State has no shortage of depth at defensive end, returning a pair of starters in Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith, as well as other veterans in Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste.
But Sawyer is promising enough to carve out a role, as defensive line coach Larry Johnson suggested a week ago and Day hinted at as well following Saturday’s action, reiterating he was “off to a great start for sure.”
“He’s learning with more and more reps,” Day said. “He’s working his way up the depth chart. Across the board our D-line was solid this year. We have some good depth, but Jack came in with a lot of confidence and he's made a lot of plays.”
If there was a reason to wonder about Sawyer’s transition this spring, it was largely due to inexperience.
He opted out of the high school season last August, favoring additional training for spring practice.
Rehabilitation after tearing a medial collateral ligament in his knee in late 2019 also consumed him for much of the previous year.
But he showed no rust during the spring game, nor slowness, even as it has been 17 months since he last appeared in a competitive game.
With a number of offensive linemen sidelined for the spring game, a group that included starting right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, it was rare to see Sawyer matched up against a premier tackle.
The first sack he was credited with occurred while he faced Kuhn, who has not appeared in a game in three seasons with the program.
His next two came while going up against two other underclassmen, including freshman Zen Michalski and redshirt freshman Grant Toutant.
None came while lined up opposite Thayer Munford, the team’s returning all-conference first-team left tackle.
Nonetheless, Munford was left impressed by Sawyer, noting he had performed consistently throughout this spring, and was not eager to try blocking him, either.
“I’m just happy Jack’s on our team,” Munford said.
Other veterans also praised Sawyer. Those included his fellow defensive linemen such as Harrison.
“Jack’s real,” he said. “Jack’s legit.”
His particular matchup during the game mattered little. He had shown them enough to reach this point, though the final day of the spring workouts made it clear to most observers.
“All the things that stand out are pretty obvious,” Harrison said. “Jack's got a great a first step and a great bend around the edge. That's something you really can't teach. So I think he's going to be a great player at Ohio State.”