It’s rarely a bad thing to have too much depth at one position.
That can most certainly be said of Ohio State’s defensive end group. With reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Tyquan Lewis returning for a fifth year to join senior Jalyn Holmes, sophomore Nick Bosa and redshirt junior Sam Hubbard, the Buckeyes boast arguably the most dominant quartet of defensive ends in college football.
“Is it possible to have too many?” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer asked, sarcastically. “On defense, I’ve never thought about it. On offense it happened here. Every time I walk into a press conference, ‘Why did he only have four touches? What about this, what about that?’ Once again, I rather have that conversation than say we don’t have anybody.”
With the defensive end talent, it can make the whole defense better, regardless of the set. Redshirt senior linebacker Chris Worley said the ability for the Buckeyes’ defensive linemen to put tons of pressure on the quarterback — even if the pressure does not result in a sack — makes the job of everyone else on the defensive side of the ball easier.
“All those interceptions that Malik (Hooker) had and other guys, Marshon (Lattimore), a lot of times it’s, ‘Oh, did you see the Marshon play?’” Worley said. “But what you didn’t see was, down one through two or the two drives before that, the quarterback was probably hit six times upside the head and he was just trying to get the ball out and guys are making plays now.”
With that depth on the roster, it could be challenging to fully maximize the talent. During the spring, the concept of a line that featured the four defensive ends with redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones in a heavy-loaded front five surfaced as a possibility in 2017.
“Coaches like to say that we have to hold the checkers,” Meyer said on April 6. “You got five really good checkers right there, play them all at once.”
Three months later, Meyer and his team are still toying with the idea of using all those playing pieces at the same time.
“We have five like we have right now. I’ve kind of tapped them on the shoulder and say all those five guys are playing,” Meyer said. “It’s fun to have checkers like that, move them around.”
A key aspect of the plan involves standing Hubbard up and possibly play a few steps behind the linemen. He might be built like a defensive lineman, standing at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, but he still has the athleticism to play a unique form of defensive lineman.
“I’ve never had this situation and it remains to be seen and I think (defensive line coach) Larry Johnson and (defensive coordinator) Greg Schiano know how to handle it or have had conversations that I’ve been involved into,” Meyer said. “I wouldn’t call (Hubbard) a linebacker but he might be something like that. Get him on the field.”
Lewis believes that even though the team will not always be able to get all four defensive ends on the field at one time, there is nothing that separates those on the field from those who have to step off.
“We don’t consider them backups,” Lewis said. “They’re just another asset to the starting lineup. That’s why they’re always featured in it. With a line this deep, it’s always fresh. Fresh rotation, nobody’s afraid of anything.”
It is certain the team will not always utilize all four defensive ends at the same time. There’s even a chance it is just an idea that might not come to fruition.
But Meyer has seemed adamant that with all that talent, there has to be some way to maximize those players.
“You look at our four D-ends right now — that doesn’t include Chase Young or Jonathon Cooper — so we have four, and unfortunately we’ll probably lose three of them (to the NFL Draft),” Meyer said. “Bosa, Jalyn Holmes is in that same category, and Sam Hubbard. We have to find a way … to get them on the field.”