“You have to win the locker room. What he’s recruited to the defensive line, how those guys feel about it. More than that, he’s a father figure to everybody on the team.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day on associate head coach & defensive line coach Larry Johnson via Collin Gay, The Lantern
There are plenty of new faces on the Ohio State coaching staff heading into the 2019 season, but the one constant of late for the Buckeyes has been defensive line coach Larry Johnson. After 18 years as an assistant at Penn State, Johnson joined Urban Meyer’s coaching staff in 2014. Johnson has already worked with defensive linemen like Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones, and numerous others while in Columbus, and now will be turning his attention to new recruits like Zach Harrison and Noah Potter.
The decision by Day to name Larry Johnson as associate head coach came as an easy one, especially after how closely the two worked together when Day was named interim head coach during Urban Meyer’s three-game suspension to open up the 2018 season. Johnson will help to keep some of the expectations and practices that were used while Urban Meyer was head coach at Ohio State, but also help Day to create his own style of coaching and help him put his stamp on the Ohio State football program.
What will help Ohio State remain near the the top of college football despite the uncertainty that is coming with new head coach Ryan Day and the rest of the pieces he has assembled on the coaching staff is the influence of Johnson. Not only has Johnson formed deep relationships with the defensive lineman he has spent years recruiting and coaching, but he is also highly respected by the rest of the team, and looked at like a father figure.
The respect all of the Ohio State players have for Johnson is unquestionable. Former players say that the fear of letting Johnson down makes them work that much harder. The results are undeniable, as Johnson has coached 14 Big Ten defensive player or lineman of the year recipients in his 22 years between Penn State and Ohio State. With the youthful energy or Day, along with the experience of Johnson, Ohio State is in good hands going forward.
“Well, I mean, you’ve got to give the kids a chance to prove themselves to you during the spring, right? So my take has always been to evaluate the body of work that you have, so you look at some things about last year, and then consider what you’re doing this year. And then give them a chance to show you if they can execute and do the things you need them to do.”
With spring practices just around the corner, new linebackers coach Al Washington will soon get a chance to get a look at his group of players out on the football field. Since accepting a position on Ryan Day’s coaching staff in January, Washington has seen his plate full of recruiting duties, along with evaluating tape on the returning linebackers.
Washington is entering a situation where all three starting linebackers are returning this year, but there is no guarantee that all three will be starters in 2019. The most likely starting linebacker from last year’s squad to regain his starting spot this year is Malik Harrison, who after a tough start to the season tied for the team lead in tackles with 81 stops. Tuf Borland and Pete Werner were also starters last year, but it’s possible they could be replaced if former five-star recruit Baron Browning can shake off injuries and live up to the hype. Teradja Mitchell will also be in the mix to claim one of the starting spots.
The one certainty in 2019 from Al Washington’s group of linebackers is that expectations will be higher than what was seen from Bill Davis’ group in 2018. The biggest problem of last year’s Ohio State defense was the linebackers, and it permeated through the rest of the defense. At least there is some fresh blood like Washington on the defensive coaching staff, so it’s unlikely to see the Silver Bullets underperform this year like they did last year.
“We know how important Kaleb is on the floor and we’ve been on him so much. He’s taken really good strides, not fouling and staying composed when he gets a bad call.”
Justin Ahrens might have gotten all the headlines on Tuesday night against Iowa, but the performance from Kaleb Wesson was just as important to Ohio State’s first win over a ranked opponent this season. Wesson finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds against the Hawkeyes, with the sophomore’s work in the second half being especially impressive. With just over 12 minutes to play in the game, Wesson converted two three-point plays in just under a minute to give the Buckeyes a 10-point lead.
The performance from Wesson against Iowa was especially important because of what happened the last time against Iowa. When the Buckeyes traveled to Iowa City in January, Wesson had his worst performance of the season, scoring just two points in a 72-62 loss to the Hawkeyes. Wesson’s performance against Iowa last month started a stretch in which the sophomore failed to reach double figures in the scoring column in three of four games.
Ohio State can’t count on Ahrens to hit six three-pointers and score 29 points a game the rest of the year, but it’s a lot more likely to see Wesson play like he did against the Hawkeyes. For the Buckeyes to see success in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament, they’ll need Wesson to continue to play aggressive but smart, like he did on Tuesday night. If the sophomore big man gets into foul trouble like he has at times during the year, Ohio State will have trouble getting any offense going.
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