When thinking of Ohio State’s defensive line, most people immediately turn their attention to defensive ends like sophomore Nick Bosa, redshirt junior Sam Hubbard, or Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year redshirt senior Tyquan Lewis.
But last season, the leading tackler on that line was none other than then-redshirt freshman defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones.
Jones finished 2016 with 52 total tackles — four of which were for a loss — in what was an impressive debut season for the now-third-year defensive lineman.
Coming off a strong freshman season, Jones has only made improvements in the spring, so much so that coach Urban Meyer has called him “the most improved” player this offseason.
“Dre’Mont Jones is really turning into a fine player here for us,” Meyer said.
It has taken Jones some time to work himself into this position. He missed his true freshman season while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered while playing basketball at his high school, St. Ignatius in Cleveland. Jones said it took him about 10 months to make the full recovery.
Once he joined the Buckeyes, his work began with trimming down weight. He entered OSU weighing about 285 pounds and said he dropped that number down to around 260 in an effort to change “baby fat into real muscle.”
“I was a little heavy when I first got here, had to drop about 30 pounds and then get it all back,” Jones said. “I don’t want to be all blobby.”
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson said that Jones’ shape has improved as he plays, thanks in large part to a game built around running and rushing the offensive line.
“Dre’Mont can run like a running back,” Johnson said. “Very smooth, transitional player and he’s in great shape. Dre’Mont’s one of the guys who’s in shape all the time because he’s running. I think that’s what makes the difference. He can go get the football.”
Johnson added that Jones has demonstrated talent not only on the field, but in the classroom, helping make him stand out.
“He’s doing a great job academic wise in the classroom. He’s a really smart football player, IQ football is really high and now just to be able to continue to grow,” Johnson said.
Back when Johnson was the defensive line coach at Penn State, he coached a linebacker named Tamba Hali, who has since gone on to become a five-time Pro Bowler and enjoyed an 11-year career in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson said Jones reminds him a lot of Hali in how their speed and athleticism translate to success on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s close to Tamba Hali,” Johnson said. “Tamba Hali was like that. He would run all day long.”
The other defensive lineman have taken note of Jones’ presence on the line, including Lewis, who said Jones’ versatility and speed that Jones provides can be a huge asset for the defense.
“He’s a high motor guy,” Lewis said. “He does a lot of things for us. He moves around a lot. He’s all over the place. I don’t think nobody could outrun him. It’s like he doesn’t get tired so he’s all over the place. It’s hard not to love him on the field.”
That versatility might be tested in 2017 with OSU possibly looking at running out a new-look defensive line. Meyer spoke on Tuesday about out a line that featured four defensive ends and Dre’Mont Jones in a heavy-loaded front five.
“I would like to see all five on the field at one time,” Meyer said on Tuesday. “Coaches like to say that we have to hold the checkers. You got five really good checkers right there, play them all at once.”
Lewis said such a defensive alignment could be dangerous, but also added that he doesn’t know if the five-man front is a reality yet.
Regardless of what players are out on the field, Jones knows that he will need to make improvements in his own game to really help out the team.
“Last year, one of the things we evaluate, we thought he did a great job playing the run, great job affecting the pass, but not a lot of sacks,” Johnson said. “So what we worked on this spring, improving that and that’s a matter of technique. This spring, he’s been very effective and he’s bought into it.”
With an experienced defensive line coach in Johnson to help him become a better pass-rusher, Jones is making sure to put in all the hard work and is excited to get back onto the field in games and prove that he can get after the quarterback in his second season.
“That’s what coach Johnson emphasizes a lot. Just getting to the quarterback, getting to the quarterback, getting to the quarterback so that became my philosophy too,” Jones said. “So I’m eager to get the quarterback every trip. Doesn’t matter, run or pass.”