Last year left a lot to be desired on the defensive side of the football for Ohio State. Gone are key contributors at all three levels of defense for the Buckeyes, making way for the next crop of young talent in Columbus. With at least 10 true freshmen joining the Buckeyes on defense, the future is bright for Ohio State.
Some of the new Buckeyes will step in and make an instant impact on the field for Ohio State, while others will have their time to shine later on down the line. While preseason camp is still in the early stages, it is becoming obvious who will be seeing playing time for the Buckeyes sooner rather than later.
Even though we haven’t seen any of these true freshmen in an actual college football game yet, it’s pretty obvious who is likely to have the biggest impact for Ohio State on defense in 2021. Smart money is on defensive linemen J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer to make noise early on in their Buckeye careers. The two defensive linemen are a couple of the highest rated recruits that Ohio State have ever brought in on the defensive side of the football.
So why do I think these two defensive linemen are going to be Ohio State’s biggest impact freshmen on defense this year? A lot of it has to do with defensive end being one of the easier positions to make noise at for younger players. Look at some of Ohio State’s more recent freshman defensive ends and how they have stepped in and made an impact early. Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young saw plenty of playing time as freshmen and went on to be top-five NFL draft picks.
For defensive ends things come just a little quicker. While defensive ends still need to be aware of the threat of opponents running the ball, things get a little easier in obvious passing situations when the defensive ends can just pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. At that point natural ability takes over. Even though Sawyer and Tuimoloau are both just freshmen, some offensive linemen are going to be overmatched by what the new Buckeyes are going to throw at them.
Not saying guys like Reid Carrico at linebacker or Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson at cornerback aren’t going to have their moments this year, they just aren’t likely to see as much playing time as Sawyer and Tuimoloau. Defensive back and linebacker are a lot harder to pick up since there are so many different reads that they have to be aware of. A lot of times you won’t see players at that position start to feel entirely comfortable at the college level until they have at least a year under their belt.
Another reason that Sawyer and Tuimoloau could find themselves making a lot of plays this year is because the Buckeyes just lost one of their key defensive ends due to injury. Last week it was announced that Friday would miss all of preseason camp, and most of the regular season due to an undisclosed injury. Head coach Ryan Day even mentioned that both Sawyer and Tuimoloau would both likely get onto the field earlier than anticipated because of the injury to Friday.
Between Sawyer and Tuimoloau, which true freshman defensive end is going to have the bigger impact? That’s a lot tougher question to answer. I want to say Sawyer just because he has been with the team longer than Tuimoloau. Don’t count out what Tuimoloau can do though, as there’s a reason he is the highest-rated defensive prospect to sign with Ohio State since 2000.
No matter what, opposing offenses are going to have their hands full trying to keep Sawyer and Tuimoloau out of the backfield and off their quarterbacks. Imagine being an opposing coach and realizing that not only do you have to slow down Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison, but their backups are Sawyer and Tuimoloau. Keeping your quarterback clean with those four and others getting after the QB seems like an impossible task.
The wild thing is this is only the beginning for Sawyer and Tuimoloau. It’s hard to remember that they are both just true freshmen, since they both came to Ohio State under so much hype. This year is going to set the table for at least two more years of having a couple of the best defensive ends in the country. Not only did Ohio State reload from what they had at defensive end last year, they got even better.