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How the Buckeye defense improved through spring practice

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Are there reasons to think this year’s defense will be better than last year’s?

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I took a look at how the offense improved throughout the spring — now it’s the defense’s turn.

Ohio State’s defensive ends will be better than last year’s, and may be the best in the country

I’ve already written about this a few times this offseason, but I think the 2018 defensive line — and defensive ends in particular — will be the best Meyer has had at Ohio State, including last year’s deep group.

With Chase Young and Nick Bosa backed by Jonathon Cooper and Jashon Cornell, the two-deep talent at defensive end is just ridiculous. Those four players average a 247 Composite rating of .9824, which would rank 31st overall in this year’s 247 Composite rankings. All were five-stars at some point in their recruiting cycle.

In the spring game, Young said that he would have had six sacks if he’d actually been allowed to hit quarterbacks. According to Bill Landis, Young said, “I told Dwayne (Haskins) if we could tackle, I would’ve hit him three times today and the ball would’ve popped out. He knows that. I let him throw. I told him before the game ‘I’m gonna be on your butt.’”

This is tough for opposing offenses because they can’t get away with double-teaming one star defensive end — like Joey Bosa was used to during the 2015 season. If they double team this Bosa, then that means opening themselves up to Young, Cooper, or Cornell flying off the edge.

Ohio State was 19th in adjusted sack rate last season, but 78th in 2016. While last year’s group was deep too, it actually didn’t have the same top-end talent that this year’s group of ends will have. Hubbard, Holmes, and Lewis are likely going to be taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, but Young and Bosa could be top-10 picks overall.

Having this kind of talent at defensive end means that quarterbacks won’t have as long to set up deep passes, will be forced to adjust blocking assignments to compensate, or will be forced to throw quick, short passes all game long (which, as Indiana demonstrated in last season’s opener, can still be deadly!).

Defensive tackle depth is the best in Meyer’s tenure

That’s a lot of words about the defensive ends, but this is probably also the best group of defensive tackles that Meyer and Larry Johnson have had at Ohio State. Dre’Mont Jones is the clear leader of the group, presenting a pass rushing challenge nearly equal to the defensive ends.

But beside Jones is an incredibly deep group of tackles. This rotating group includes Robert Landers, Davon Hamilton, Antwuan Jackson (who didn’t play in the spring game), Haskell Garrett, and early enrollee Tommy Togiai. Togiai, who has a lot of talent ahead of him experience-wise, became the first freshman to lose their black stripe from the 2018 class. Oh, and the top-rated 2018 defensive tackle, Taron Vincent, is coming this summer. These players will provide pass rushing pressure up the middle, but importantly they’ll also clog running lanes and free linebackers to make plays.

Baron Browning looks ready to explode as a sophomore

Speaking of linebackers, Baron Browning’s spring game performance and reports from all of spring practice suggest that he’s ready to emerge for the linebacker corps.

Browning was one of the few Meyer mentioned by name in the spring post-game, saying “I thought Baron Browning played very good today.”

It sounds like Browning is only at middle linebacker while Tuf Borland is out with an injury, and that he could shift outside when Borland returns (leaving Hilliard and Borland in the middle). That would leave Browning, Malik Harrison, Keandre Jones (and potentially Dante Booker) outside.

Taver Johnson has (at least) four solid corners

Denzel Ward is gone, but the good news is that Kendall Sheffield seems to have upped his game this spring, while young blue chippers Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade are ready for more responsibilities.

Sheffield set a school record in the 60m dash with the track team this spring and seemed to continue his growth from the end of last season. Sheffield is expected to fight with Okudah to be the top corner this season. Okudah missed the spring following shoulder surgery, but clearly has the talent to be an elite corner, even if his freshman performances were a little uneven.

But it’s also encouraging that Shaun Wade and Marcus Williamson had solid showings in the spring game. The young corners could force a four-man rotation at the position and will at least provide depth in case of injury. Elite cover corners could be necessary, since no one claimed Damon Webb’s open safety spot this spring.