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Player to Watch: It’s time for Jack Sawyer to dominate for Ohio State

After showing flashes of what he can do over the past couple of years, Sawyer is poised to make the leap for the Buckeyes.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Every day from now until the start of the season, Land-Grant Holy Land is highlighting Ohio State football players that you should be watching this season. Check out all of our ”Player to Watch” articles to get ready for the season opener against Indiana.

Big expectations have followed Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer ever since he committed to becoming a Buckeye over the likes of Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame. The Pickerington North product played tight end, defensive end, and even quarterback while in high school, sitting out the 2020 COVID season as a prep senior.

Sawyer arrived as a five-star recruit and was considered the top overall player in the state of Ohio, while being rated the No. 4 player nationally at any position and the nation’s No. 3-ranked defensive end.

He saw the field early as a freshman and appeared in 13 games during his first season in Columbus. He’s been a part of the defensive rotation since the beginning and has played in 25 games across his first two years as a Buckeye, compiling 19 solo tackles, 18 assists, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, four quarterback hurries, two passes defended, and one forced fumble.

Sawyer has shown flashes of greatness since the beginning of his collegiate career, but has yet to fully unlock the promise he showed as a high school star. Now, a couple of things might unlock Sawyer’s potential in 2023.

In 2022, Sawyer filled the “Jack” role on the Ohio State defense. He was still one of the best defensive players on the field for the Buckeyes, but learning that role may have distracted him and limited his effectiveness in what he does well — getting after the quarterback. Despite being in an unfamiliar role, Sawyer still managed to tie Mike Hall Jr. for the team lead in sacks last year — with 4.5 — but more is expected from an Ohio State starting defensive end.

These are highly rated recruits being coached by one of the best position coaches to ever teach the game at a collegiate level — Larry Johnson. While it’s understandable that they won’t all put up numbers like Joey/Nick Bosa or Chase Young, they should be more of a threat to the opposing quarterback than Ohio State’s have been over the last couple of years.

The Jack requires doing things beyond just setting the edge or rushing the passer. If Sawyer is unburdened by other responsibilities, it stands to reason he can do the things a typical defensive end would be expected to do, simplifying his reads and allowing him to flourish with the things he does best.

Sawyer being excused from Jack responsibilities may ultimately depend on Mitchell Melton’s health. Melton, a senior linebacker, was reportedly flourishing as the Buckeyes’ Jack player in spring ball last year until suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 2022 OSU Spring Game.

Football, especially on defense, is a team game. Sawyer has come close to sacks a number of times, only to see a quarterback get rid of the ball just before his arrival. Much of that has been on the OSU secondary over the last two seasons. If Ohio State’s secondary can keep tighter coverage for just one to two additional seconds, Sawyer’s near misses should become sacks in 2023.

I expect Ohio State’s secondary to be improved in 2023 after taking a step forward last year. If that happens, and if Sawyer is free of his Jack responsibilities, it is reasonable to expect his quarterback pressures and sacks to rise during his junior season.

With his high motor, strength, and quickness, Sawyer has the talent to reach double-digit sack totals. Whether he does that during the upcoming season or not depends largely on how he is used and how the defensive backfield performs behind him.

However the part that he can’t control goes, Sawyer will certainly be a player to watch for Ohio State this upcoming season.