Defensive tackles occupy two spots at any given time in Ohio State’s defensive scheme. The Buckeyes have seven players who could start at either of them at a program known for producing high-end defensive line talent. Eight Buckeyes have been drafted since 2015.
Five of the seven current tackles are former four- or five-star recruits, and those who aren’t already have starting experience for the Buckeyes.
“We have a lot of depth on the inside,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “[We’re] trying to find a way to get six or seven guys ready to play.”
Johnson said the defense feels confident in a six-man rotation featuring redshirt senior Jashon Cornell, sophomore Taron Vincent and junior Haskell Garrett at three-technique tackle, lining up on the offensive guard’s outside shoulder. Redshirt senior Robert “B.B.” Landers, redshirt senior Davon Hamilton and sophomore Tommy Togiai will play nose guard.
Landers is the most experienced player on the defensive line, with 26 games under his belt and multiple years starting. Nose guards are often called upon to eat double-teams on the offensive line, which makes his 18 career tackles for loss all the more impressive.
Hamilton is another player with significant experience at Ohio State, mounting 38 tackles in 27 career games.
However, Cornell is a unique case. After coming to Columbus as a top 100 national prospect, he’s yet to earn a starting role. He hopes to change that in his final year with the Buckeyes.
“This is the last shot around. He’s got a chance to start at three-technique, and I think he sees the goal now,” Johnson said. “He’s got all the tools, he’s everything we thought he would be, now it’s about doing it on the field.”
Togiai is a name that’s drawn praise all offseason, named by multiple players as the strongest athlete on the team.
“I think [he’s] had probably the best camp so far — he’s really doing well,” Johnson said.
Johnson mentioned a potential “bonus” defensive tackle in the rotation, which could be former Auburn player and four-star recruit, redshirt junior Antwuan Jackson. Jackson may have factored into the rotation after transferring from a junior college in 2018, but an injury hampered his season. Now he’s battling for playing time alongside the other names at the two interior spots.
“He’s finally getting down the technique,” junior defensive end Jonathon Cooper said. “Good get off, good hands. He came here, he was a great pass rusher, obviously. He looks great; he got slimmer.”
Quality depth at defensive tackle provides two additional strong advantages for this Ohio State team. Fresh, strong players on the inside help keep offensive linemen occupied and allow for easier play from the linebackers, the position group that drew the most criticism in 2018.
It also allows players to specialize. Three-technique and nose guard demand two different skill sets from defensive linemen, and the Buckeyes have enough defensive tackles to designate everyone as one or the other.
Johnson said this specialization places better players on the field, since the defensive tackles only need to know one or the other.
“If you play guys at two positions, double their learning, now I don’t get the best player on the field if you do that,” Johnson said. “I want B.B. to be the best nose guard and Jashon to be the best three-technique.”
Players and coaches said they are excited about the opportunity presented by such quality depth.
“One person goes in, then the next person goes in, changes speed again, and changes speed again,” Hamilton said. “By the end of the game, the center’s gonna be tired. It’s gonna make it easier for all of us to make plays.”