Depth was not an issue for the Ohio State defensive line in 2017. At the very least, it was not an issue at defensive end.
That narrative could flip in 2018.
Ohio State is guaranteed to lose two players at both defensive end and defensive tackle, but the inside defensive line depth could return arguably its top two players while adding plenty of depth from Early Signing Day. The defensive ends will only lose depth.
On Early Signing Day Wednesday, Ohio State received letters of intent from five-star Taron Vincent, the top high school interior defensive tackle in the country, and four-star Antwuan Jackson Jr., the top junior college transfer interior defensive lineman in the nation, according to 247Sports. It also secured the commitment of four-star Tommy Togiai, the ninth-best defensive tackle in the country.
“[Defensive line coach Larry Johnson has] made some very strong comments about the future of the inside of our defensive line,” head coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday. “What I love about them, they’re all great kids, great families, and they’re ready to go. I anticipate they’ll all play. Our interior defensive line is going to be strong.”
At defensive end, however, it did not make many additions. It lost out on the recruitment of defensive end Micah Parsons, the seventh-ranked prospect in the nation, due to a self-reported violation and also watched strong-side defensive end Brenton Cox, at one an Ohio State commit, sign with Georgia.
The only defensive end recruit Ohio State picked up was three-star Alex Williams, and Meyer said Wednesday the team has given thought already to playing him at tight end. And while Ohio State is considered the favorite by 247Sports to land four-star defensive end Tyreke Smith, a Cleveland native, he still has yet to commit and could surprise the Buckeyes.
Depth at defensive end is not something Ohio State has had to be concerned about in recent years, however.
With Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Nick Bosa and Chase Young destined to be drafted in early rounds in the next few NFL drafts, the defensive end position has had talent that the tackle position hasn’t had.
That depth looks a lot different in 2018.
And given what freshman Chase Young has displayed in short spurts, a legitimate case could be made that the Buckeyes have five defensive ends talented enough to be starters for any other team.
The depth at defensive tackles had also been strong in 2017, but not in the same way. Redshirt seniors Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle, as well as redshirt sophomores Robert Landers and Dre’Mont Jones, have proven to be capable of effectively manning the interior line positions for Ohio State. But only Jones was stood out as a potential All-American.
But that depth looks a lot different in 2018.
Holmes’ and Lewis’ eligibility has expired, and the Buckeyes will probably lose another starter as well.
When Bosa was asked Friday about whether he expected to be triple-teamed next season with starters leaving, he excluded Hubbard’s name from the group of returning starters while stating Jones will return.
“I’m sure they’ll be there, but with [redshirt freshman Jonathon Cooper] and Chase on the other side, and Dre’Mont hopefully coming back, and [Landers] inside, it will be tough to double-team anyone,” Bosa said Friday.
Hubbard is eligible to leave early for the 2018 NFL Draft, and he likely will leave, meaning Bosa and Young will begin the year as the expected starters, with Cooper as the top backup. There are no other players on Ohio State’s roster listed at defensive end.
Bosa and Young are more than capable of handling the job for Ohio State. With their talent, they still might represent the best pair of defensive ends in the nation. The difference in 2017 was that any substitution made didn’t hurt Ohio State’s ability to pressure the backfield.
Young, Bosa and Cooper will be counted on to carry the entire weight of the ends in 2018. They will have to fight through fatigue at times, and an injury to any of the three could be detrimental to the effectiveness of the line.
For the defensive tackles next season, an injury to Jones — if he returns — won’t require the coaching staff to scramble. They might have the benefit the ends enjoyed this season.
In addition to returners Landers and Jones and the top recruits Ohio State added at defensive tackle, the Buckeyes also have four, four-star defensive tackles returning next season in Malik Barrow, Jerron Cage, Jashon Cornell and Haskell Garrett, as well as three-star Davon Hamilton.
Defensive tackles will be able to handle injuries or inconsistent play. With all the depth inside, Ohio State can afford to go through several players at the positions. The same cannot be said of the defensive ends. At least, as it stands right now with still a few more months until the more traditional signing day in February, Bosa, Young and Cooper will be required to carry the weight of the ends on their shoulders.
“We don’t know who’s coming in yet. We still need to finish up recruiting, and walk-ons and whatever,” Bosa said Friday. “So we just have our three ends right now, so it will all shake out. We’ll see, but obviously I’ll get rest when I need it, but I’m definitely going to play a lot more.”