Spring is a time of hope, a time of rebirth. Where everything is possible as we emerge from the dark and depressing doldrums of winter. While weather-wise, it might still be winter where you are, it is now officially spring at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as the Ohio State football program is kicking off spring practice today with a lot of questions to answer, things to accomplish, and players to prepare.
Obviously, the most important thing that needs to be accomplished over the next five weeks is the development of the player who will take over at quarterback come fall. When I generously gave the football team some New Year’s resolutions in early January, I suggested that the coaches have a pretty good idea who the starting QB would be coming out of spring. They don’t need to share it publicly, but having a clear-cut favorite will be important so that they can focus the summer workouts and fall camp around “the guy,” rather than having to extend the battle over the next five months (we’ve seen how damaging that can be to a team).
Ryan Day has said that the plan is to pick a signal-caller this spring, but wouldn’t 100% commit to it, which I think is fine. Do everything you can to make that decision, but if neither guy distances himself from the other, there’s no reason to force it. You have to get that decision right, but it sure would be nice if Kyle McCord or Devin Brown would grab the reins during these 15 practices.
So, while we know that the quarterback competition will be the most important part of the upcoming practices, there is one name that I am hoping to hear about having a standout spring, and that is rising-sophomore defensive end Caden Curry. The defensive line has long been one of the most important and impactful position groups for Ohio State, but in recent years, while they have been relatively productive, the nearly supernatural dominance that we have seen from the likes of the Bosas, Chase Young, Cameron Heyward, Vernon Gholston, Will Smith, and others just hasn’t been there.
In Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, defensive line coach Larry Johnson has some incredible talents on the outside this season, and hopefully they will live up to their potential this fall, but it’s this young guy that has me most intrigued.
Back in mid-September, following the game against Arkansas State, I thought that Curry had already shown the potential to become a Buckeye legend. As is often the case with true freshmen, Curry’s snap count decreased as the season progressed, but he did rack up 81 plays on defense with Pro Football Focus grading him at a 77.6-clip. While, by rule, I generally don’t put much stock in PFF grades, that did rank Curry as the 11th-best defensive player on OSU last year; the only edge rushers ahead of him were Zach Harrison (now off to the NFL), fellow true freshman Kenyatta Jackson (who only had 24 snaps over three games), Javontae Jean-Baptiste (who transferred to Notre Dame), and Tyler Friday who is not returning to Ohio State.
Tuimoloau was just behind Curry in 12th at a 75.2 grade and Sawyer was in 14th at 74. Again, those specific numbers and rankings don’t mean much to me, but what does is the fact that Curry held his own against the higher-profile players at his position. Granted, he didn’t play as meaningful of snaps against the same level of competition that Jack and J.T. did, but man was he impactful in the games he played.
Anytime Curry was on the field and allowed to cook, he looked like he had another gear that could pay major dividends for the Buckeyes. Harrison even singled him out last week while at the NFL Combine when discussing Ohio State players that could break out this year.
We all know that Johnson likes to rotate his players and move guys around, so I am hopeful that throughout the spring we hear that Curry is proving that he has to be in that mix come fall. We know that Sawyer and Tuimoloau are almost assuredly going to be starting on the outside, but if Curry can become the third guy in that rotation, and even challenge Sawyer for the Jack/Leo position, I think that is in the best interest of the OSU defense. Sawyer has clearly not reached his ceiling so far in Johnson’s and Jim Knowles’ scheme, so maybe letting him play a more traditional DE position would allow him to show what he’s capable of.
Undoubtedly an incredible athlete, but the way that he has bulked up, it does seem like the roaming, free-range responsibilities of the Jack fit him (despite it literally being his name). Curry — at least based on what we’ve seen thus far — feels like a far more natural fit for that position. Now, I’m not saying I think that Curry should supplant Sawyer in the starting lineup, just that L.J. likes to move guys around, and I am hopeful that Curry uses this spring to prove that he can’t be off the field all that often.
When you think of a three-man edge rusher rotation of J.T., Jack, and Caden paired with guys like Tyliek Williams, Mike Hall Jr., and Ty Hamilton in the middle, I think this has the potential to be the Buckeyes' best defensive line since The Predator left to wreak havoc on the NFL. There is talent and youth in the Ohio State defensive line room this year, and I am optimistic that they can get the unit back to where it belongs starting this spring.