INDIANAPOLIS — Sam Hubbard used to show up at Jalyn Holmes’ apartment door at 4:30 a.m. He would knock on the door to get his fellow Ohio State defensive end up and out the door an hour early for practice despite the two living just 10 minutes from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Holmes said Hubbard wanted to be “a whole two hours early to everything.” But he abided with the early wake-up call because Hubbard was his only teammate with a car.
“Sam’s been my road dog since I got there at Ohio State,” Holmes said Saturday at the NFL combine. “I don’t know where I’d be because he was my little Uber for real, for real. That’s my man.”
Holmes might not know where he would be without Hubbard’s early-morning rides. But with the drives, he ended up Saturday standing beside Hubbard at a podium at the NFL combine.
The two NFL hopefuls — along with Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper — helped make up one of the deepest groups of defensive ends in the country last season. Now, after splitting reps with each other, they are hoping the versatility the group learned to utilize last season to their advantage at the next level.
“If you look at where it got us, we’re all here and we’re all in great position to play at the next level,” Hubbard said Saturday at the NFL combine. “That’s kind of the picture we had in our heads, what [defensive line] coach [Larry] Johnson told us would happen. Although we don’t have crazy numbers, it all worked out in the end and we’re here.”
A second-team All-Big Ten honoree in his final season as a Buckeye, Hubbard had 42 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
His biggest plays came from all over the field. Hubbard often moved around on defense with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano even giving him a shot as a stand-up linebacker at times by dropping the redshirt junior into coverage.
“[Schiano] wanted to do a lot of different things to switch up the looks and he used me and my versatility to be able to stand up, drop, rush, rush from different spots, and he just wanted to give different looks and surprise offenses,” Hubbard said. “I was able to be the moving piece that did that. It also showcased what I can do with teams at the next level.”
He said he enjoys watching 3-4 outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan because he plays the game “fast” and “violent,” though Hubbard does not have experience playing primarily as a standup linebacker.
Hubbard did not have the type of numbers expected of an elite NFL pass-rush prospect. Instead, he expects the ability to fit into multiple defensive schemes to boost his value.
“A lot of teams have different opinions on me, where I’ll play,” Hubbard said Saturday at the NFL combine. “Obviously I’d play anywhere and do any job that I was asked to play. But I could play a 4-3 base end, a 3-4 outside backer, 3-4 five-technique, four-technique. I can really do it all.”
Holmes offers similar versatility, though of a different variety. While Hubbard will likely stand up and play some linebacker, Holmes often slid inside and played defensive tackle, especially when Ohio State used its Rushman package of four defensive ends playing at once.
He said Johnson approached him while watching film before his junior season and asked him if he would be interested in playing three-technique on third downs. The 6-foot-5, 283-pound defensive end jumped at the opportunity to take advantage of his size and immediately started watching defensive end Joey Bosa, who sometimes slid inside to defensive tackle, and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington.
That jump-started Holmes’ interest in extending his ability to play positions beyond defensive end, if called upon, which he plans to bring to the NFL.
“I feel like these drills — [40-yard dash], bench press, everything here — just to show everybody I’m versatile,” Holmes said. “I’m a big guy that can also run and can play a lot of positions on the football field. I’m just out here showing what I do on film every Saturday, try to get it to Sunday.”
Holmes said the question he has most frequently been asked is what position he would prefer to play in the NFL. He has as simple answer for them.
“The way I answer it is any one that will get me on the field as quickly as possible. That’s it,” Holmes said.
Though Holmes slid inside to play defensive tackle in college at times, he said NFL teams have even asked him to go through linebacker drills, which he said is not that much different than what he has experience playing.
Neither Holmes nor Hubbard are quite sure what position they will play at the next level, so they are more than willing to let the NFL teams make the choice themselves. Regardless of where they end up, both are extremely confident in their ability to make the position work.