“We have five premier [defensive linemen] in my mind, and I would like to see all five on the field at one time. Coaches like to say ‘How are the checkers?’ Those are five really good checkers right there: Play them all at once.”
After a significant rebuilding year starting last spring, when a dozen players left for the NFL Draft, the Ohio State Buckeyes would seem to have a comparative embarrassment of riches heading into the 2017 season--especially when it comes to pass rushers. With defensive ends Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes all choosing to forego the draft in favor of returning to Columbus, the Buckeyes boast five highly-skilled players--including sophomores Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones--at the position. Last season, this group combined for 37.5 tackles for loss. With so many playmakers on the field, the Buckeyes don’t have to rely on a single defensive end to anchor the line. This arrangement in which seemingly all of the linemen on the roster get to see the field is similar to last season, in which Lewis earned Big Ten defensive lineman of the year honors while playing just 45 snaps per game.
While this surplus of players means the ability to keep the position group fresh with reduced reps and increased rotation, there is another added bonus for the Buckeyes. According to defensive line coach Larry Johnson, that group of five could find itself on the field at the same time, creating one of the most formidable pass rushes in the nation.
Especially given the ability of Hubbard, a former defensive back, to drop back into coverage, the guys up front certainly have an edge. And according to Urban Meyer, the defensive end group is “the strength of our team on defense.” Of course, five men on the defensive line means removing a player from an outstanding secondary or linebacking corps. It would be simply one more scheme on a defense which, at the outset, does not appear to have many weaknesses, and one which Meyer would likely not turn to with great frequency.
“The most recent years, players we’re now recruiting, they know who Carlos Hyde is. Everybody in the free world knows who Zeke Elliott is. And all of a sudden they’re watching and Zeke’s gone. Then all of a sudden here’s Mike Weber and he’s playing, he’s doing good things.”
Ohio State has quickly become a renowned destination for the nation’s best running backs. With recent successes like Ezekiel Elliott and Carlos Hyde, top recruits see that success at Ohio State translates into a real shot at the NFL. And for young recruits, that perception often does not even encompass the success of the legendary Buckeye running backs like Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Howard Cassady.
Elliott’s rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, in which he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards on the year, is a testament to the preparation that Ohio State gives recruits on their paths to the pros. While at Ohio State, Elliott recorded 3,961 rushing yards in three years with the Buckeyes, including two seasons as a starter. That yardage total is good for second all-time in program history behind Griffin. His 43 rushing touchdowns and 22, 100-yard rushing games also rank among Ohio State’s best.
Hyde, who Elliott backed up as a freshman, himself had 3,198 yards and 41 touchdowns in his career as a Buckeye before being drafted by San Francisco in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
And that line of success is still going strong. Sophomore running back Mike Weber last season became just the third Buckeye all-time to rush for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman. If his success continues, Weber could find himself alongside Hyde and Elliott in the NFL--something that top recruits readily pick up on in running backs coach Tony Alford’s recruiting pitch. Antonio Williams, the No. 7 back of the 2016 class, and J.T. Dobbins, the second-ranked back in 2017, are both already enrolled at Ohio State.
The 2018 class is similarly successful, with Jaelen Gill, the No. 3 all-purpose back in the nation, and Brian Snead, the No. 4 running back, already committed.
“I just want to get better at everything. There is not one thing that I feel like I’m weak at. I feel like I need to up everything I do and I think I have so far a lot. It’s going well.”
To say that expectations at Ohio State were high for defensive end Nick Bosa, brother of two-time All-American defensive end Joey Bosa, would be a severe understatement. Given his significant football pedigree, which extends to his father and uncle, it seemed almost unreasonable to think that the younger Bosa would be able to live up to the hype. And yet, as he is nearing the end of his first full spring in Columbus, defensive line coach Larry Johnson had high praise for the sophomore. “He’s a year ahead for his progression,” Johnson said. “He’s locked in and he’s going to be a good player for us.”
Johnson, who joined the coaching staff in 2014 after more than a decade coaching the line at Penn State, did not have the opportunity to work with the elder Bosa for his entire career in Columbus. With Nick, however, Johnson was able to shape him to the Buckeyes’ defense since his arrival on campus. By the end of Nick’s time at Ohio State, Johnson will have coached him for at least three years, compared to just two for Joey.
Despite the obvious similarities between the brothers, from their stance to their hips, Johnson says that, while Joey is “relentless” and “powerful,” Nick is more of a finesse player, “a little bit more fast, smooth, he can transition through.”
And while Nick did not have as statistically explosive of a freshman season as Joey, who earned a starting role in his first season, Nick has been surrounded by much greater depth at defensive end--his preferred position--during his time in Columbus, enabling the opportunity to learn from others already familiar with the system. He still played in all 14 games for the Buckeyes, racking up 25 tackles, seven tackles for loss and five sacks on the season.