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

Junior defensive end Chase Young described the Ohio State defensive line as a train. He said when players leave, like Dre’Mont Jones or Nick Bosa, there is always a great pass rusher in the class to continue the production.

Some of the younger guys handle that expectation in different ways. Incoming freshman defensive end Noah Potter embraced it, asking for No. 97, the same jersey number worn by the two Bosa brothers. Freshman Zach Harrison was a little more low-key about it, taking whatever jersey number he was given, No. 33.

With No. 11 on his back, Tyreke Smith was in the position this past season. He said he felt part of the Ohio State defensive line from the moment he stepped onto campus, but that this year, his sophomore season, feels different. This year, he feels like a key piece of the defensive line.

That’s why Young is talking up Smith as the next big thing.

“Every great defensive end had that sophomore year, Tyreke Smith can have that year,” Young said. “I would say watch out for Tyreke Smith.”

This is the expectation that Smith has for himself, saying he has to “fill the gap” left by Bosa and Jones next season. But that has been an expectation Smith has had from Day One, an expectation heightened by the presence of defensive line coach Larry Johnson.

Smith said he wants to achieve greatness with Ohio State, to be the best defensive lineman he could be. Johnson has the same confidence for the sophomore, and that is what Smith likes about his position coach.

“I think, every day, I’m getting better out here training with him,” Smith said. “When I am doing good, that’s not enough for him. I like that about him. He is pushing me to a limit. He thinks I can be elite.”

For Smith, he knows this is the year to do it.

After recording seven tackles for loss and five sacks in his freshman season, Bosa broke through in 2017, leading the team with 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Young did the same thing in his sophomore season, accumulating 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks this past season.

Smith, in limited playing time, has yet to record a tackle for loss or a sack, coming into 2019 with nine tackles to his name.

But Young sees the same type of player he was training for his sophomore season that Smith is now.

“Last year, this spring, I was a dog: hungry. That’s just how Tyreke is,” Young said. “I told him that’s what I expect. I expect for, after me, after Nick, then after me, it’s you.”

It’s the next-man-up mentality Johnson has made into the mantra of Ohio State, and it’s something Smith has really latched onto. He said Johnson has the ability to turn an average player into a great one.

This is the place Johnson thinks Smith is in: a young player who is beginning to come along.

“Tyreke has always been quick. He’s always been in great shape, and now it’s just learning to play football,” Johnson said. “Last year was big learning experience, I can tell you that. Now, we see the player he’s possible of being. Tyreke has a great future ahead of him.”

Young said Smith has been showing this in practice, and that his personal expectations are sky high, saying he expects a Smith sack on every play, and if not, he’s going to “be in his grill about it.”

Smith does not seem to need the extra motivation.

“I feel like this year, this year is the year I have to show out and show the country what I’m made of,” Smith said.

Because the train needs to continue to move. Young is already looking past his time at Ohio State, and who will become the next leader. Young sees that in Smith.

“He don’t have no choice but to rise up,” Young said. “If he keeps going as hard as he can and gives great effort, he has no choice but to rise.”