“I feel a physical happiness when spring is coming.” ~ Halldor Laxness
So do I, Mr. Laxness. It is called summer here in the great state of Ohio.
As Ohio State spring football has officially started, I have decided to write a series of articles on a weekly basis to identify and rank the position groups, from least to most concerning, as they pertain to the upcoming 2023 season. Each week, I will point out questions I have about these position groups, and it is my hope that several, if not all, of these questions will be answered by the Ohio State Spring Game on April 15.
Defensive Line | Concern Ranking: 3rd
- Scholarship Players Lost From The 2022 Squad: Jerron Cage, Tyler Friday, Zach Harrison, Javonte Jean-Baptiste, Taron Vincent
- Scholarship Players Returning From The 2022 Squad: Omari Abor, Caden Curry, Michael Hall, Jr., Ty Hamilton, Kenyatta Jackson, Hero Kanu, Jaden McKenzie, Jack Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau, Tyleik Williams
- Freshmen Players Participating In 2023 Spring Football: Will Smith, Jr.
Reason for my ranking: Ohio State’s pass rush has lacked a dominant pass rusher since Chase Young took his considerable talents to the NFL after the 2019 season. With Zach Harrison off to the NFL and Javonte Jean-Baptiste now at Notre Dame as a transfer, Ohio State needs the returning players on the roster to step up to help Ohio State regain a dominant defense.
- Can J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer form a fearsome pass rush combo?
Last season, J.T. Tuimoloau had arguably one of the most impressive performances ever seen by Ohio State fans at Penn State on Oct. 29, as he had 6 tackles, 3 of which were solo, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 pass defensed that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. It was the kind of performance that Ohio State fans were certainly hoping to see replicated throughout the remainder of 2022, but it did not happen.
As for Jack Sawyer, Sawyer was tried at the “Jack” hybrid defensive end-linebacker position, and never truly became comfortable. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has stated that Sawyer will focus exclusively on being a defensive end this season.
Tuimoloau had 3.5 sacks in 2022, while Sawyer tied for the team lead alongside interior defensive lineman teammate Michael Hall Jr. with 4.5 sacks each. Can they both ramp up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2023, as this could be their final season in Ohio State uniforms?
2. Does Ohio State have adequate depth along its interior?
Ohio State fans have been hoping for Tyleik Williams and Michael Hall Jr. to emerge as the type of defensive linemen capable of clogging up the opposing offense’s running game, while also collapsing the pocket on passing downs. Hall suffered shoulder injuries that deeply limited his effectiveness over the second half of the season.
Ty Hamilton is also in the mix, but are Hero Kanu and Jaden McKenzie ready to contribute? With Hall’s injury history, and Williams’ history of inconsistent play, the Buckeyes need to make sure that they have a strong interior defensive line as they approach the 2023 season.
3. Are the days of heavy defensive line rotation over at Ohio State?
While Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson has earned his reputation for developing strong defensive linemen throughout his career, Johnson has also enjoyed the autonomy of rotating defensive linemen in and out of games, with the mindset of keeping players fresh. Could that actually have become more of a detriment for the Ohio State defense, as players are being shuttled in and out along the Ohio State defensive line?
It is one thing if a player is actually fatigued and needs a rest, but perhaps Ohio State would benefit from keeping their starters in the game, and cutting back on the abundant rotation along the defensive line?