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Football: Ohio State defensive line adapts to depleted depth

Ohio State freshman defensive end Tyreke Smith (11) moves in to tackle a Rutgers player during the second half of the game on Sept. 8. Ohio State won 52-3. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

The Ohio State defense is one unit. Despite the different jobs defensive lineman and defensive backs may have on the field, each position’s success defines the success of the positions around them.

The way redshirt junior defensive lineman Robert Landers puts it, getting to the quarterback as a lineman makes a defensive back’s job much easier. But also, if a defensive back shuts down an opposing wide receiver, not giving the quarterback a target to hit, the defensive linemen have more time to get to the quarterback in pass rush.

However, the Ohio State defensive line may have another man down as the team prepares for Minnesota on Saturday.

Junior defensive end Jonathon Cooper was taken off the field on a cart during the game against Indiana. Head coach Urban Meyer said that both Cooper and junior linebacker Malik Harrison were in concussion protocol and did not have any updates on their status ahead of Saturday.

For an already depleted defensive line, with junior defensive end Nick Bosa out with a core muscle injury since Sept. 15, Landers reiterated a message the line has held since the beginning of the season: next man up.

“Getting a little banged up here and there is a part of the game, so that’s why we all prepare the exact same way, we take the amount of reps and we take what we do seriously,” Landers said. “When it’s time to work on your craft on a day-to-day basis in practice, we try and enhance it as much as we can so if someone does go down or gets hurt or that situation, we have guys ready to play.”  

Along with redshirt junior Jashon Cornell entering into the starting lineup, facing his hometown team, true freshman defensive ends, like Tyler Friday or Tyreke Smith could get increased playing time with the loss of both Bosa and Cooper.

Landers said the focus in the room has been building the culture of the defensive linemen despite the injuries, calling for players like Smith and Cornell to step up in the absence of Cooper and Bosa.

The junior defensive lineman had suffered his share of injuries during the 2018 season. Even though he did not specify what type of injury he had, Landers said he was “100 percent” heading into the Minnesota game.

However, in the time he was sidelined, he took on a new role for his fellow defensive linemen.

“I knew, at that moment in time, my job was to become a coach,” Landers said. “As I go throughout the game, whether I am playing or sitting on the sidelines or what, I’m doing everything I can to pick up one little thing, little indicators and help some of the guys who are in the game work on what they might be doing wrong or giving them tips to help them enhance their game, so they are a little bit more comfortable with playing.”

One of the things he did pick up was how opposing quarterbacks face a Bosa-less defensive line.

In the first half of Ohio State’s 49-26 win over Indiana, Landers said Indiana redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey was getting the ball out remarkably fast, giving the Ohio State defensive front no time to really pass rush.

Instead, he said the line tried to limit his throwing lane, closing the pocket as quickly as they could to limit his success.

As Ohio State prepares for the Golden Gophers, Landers said it’s going to be a different look, a look that they might not know until the game actually begins.

However, like the Ohio State defensive line has to do with the injuries the unit has suffered, Landers said the unit will have to face whatever it is dealt.

“It’s going to be one of those things where we have to adapt to the game on the fly,” Landers said.

Adaptation has been a main theme of the Ohio State defensive line this season. However, even with depleted depth, that does not change the responsibility the line has to the rest of the offense.  

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