The deepest and most exciting position on the entire Ohio State roster is defensive line. Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, and Tyquan Lewis were all eligible for the NFL Draft. All three decided to return for at least another year. Assistant head coach and defensive line coach Larry Johnson has made a career out of developing and recruiting defensive line stars. In fact, he may be one of the best positional coaches in all of college football. At Penn State, he was responsible for six defensive linemen being selected in the first round: Courtney Brown (#1 overall – 2000), Jimmy Kennedy (2003), Michael Haynes (2003), Tambi Hali (2006), Aaron Maybin (2009), and Jared Odrick (2010). At Ohio State, he’s already help make Joey Bosa the third overall pick for the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers and Bosa won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with 10.5 sacks in 12 games.
This past year, the Buckeye defense only sacked opposing quarterbacks 28 times. In 2014 and 2015, the Buckeyes reached opposing quarterbacks 45 and 38 times, respectively. The number of sacks dropping each year is a concern, but 2017 provides the best opportunity for the defense, and the defensive line, to rebound.
At the very least, Ohio State will have four future NFL defensive ends. Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, Tyquan Lewis, and Nick Bosa will split snaps at defensive end but could line up at defensive tackle at times. Red-shirt senior Tyquan Lewis, possibly the most surprising return of draft-eligible Buckeyes, will look to repeat as Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the Year. Joey Bosa won in 2014 and 2015 and Lewis won in 2016, so he will look to make it a fourth straight year that a Buckeye defensive lineman wins the award. With back-to-back eight sack seasons and 16.5 sacks in his career, it’s no wonder that Lewis is projected as a first-rounder in 2018. Jalyn Holmes, another senior, finished with two sacks. In addition, his nine tackles for loss was third-best on the team.
Sam Hubbard has been nothing short of fantastic for the Buckeyes with 16.5 career tackles for loss and ten career sacks. USA Today named Hubbard as a freshman All-American in 2015. Finally, Joey Bosa’s little brother, Nick, had a great start to his college career. As a true freshman, Nick Bosa finished with seven tackles for loss, five going for sacks. The four defensive ends will receive the most snaps but there’s even more talent at the position than can be on the field.
Darius Slade has been with the team since 2014 but was sidelined all last year with a ruptured Achilles tendon. He has barely seen the field but could have been a contributor last year. Rashod Berry was a part of the recruiting class of 2015 and had seven total tackles last year. Jonathan Cooper was last year’s third rated weak-side defensive end and 32nd overall prospect. Cooper saw minimal playing time but did record one sack on six tackles last year. Cooper was a highly regarded prospect and could be a rotational player this year with a year of development under his belt.
Highly regarded five-star prospect Chase Young (#2 weak-side defensive end, #8 overall) could potentially red-shirt his freshman year. He needs to bulk up and there are simply too many bodies for too few positions on the field. However, Young will definitely be a player to watch in the future and if he proves himself in the off-season, will receive snaps here and there.
Dre’Mont Jones and Michael Hill return to start at defensive tackle once again. Jones finished last year with four tackles for loss and 52 total tackles, good for sixth on the team. Hill had 21 total tackles last year and has 36 in his career. Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton rotated in at defensive tackle last year and you guessed it – both return. Landers had 16 tackles, eight going for a loss, while Hamilton had ten tackles and half a sack. A big return to the defensive line is Tracy Sprinkle. Sprinkle suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the season against Bowling Green after playing all of 2015.
Dylan Thompson returns after suffering injuries that have sidelined him, as well as being academically ineligible last year. Not touching the field since 2014, Thompson may never find the field. Jashon Cornell was the #7 strong-side defensive end and 91st overall prospect in 2015. With minimal snaps, Cornell had four tackles and 1.5 sacks. In his same recruiting class was Joshua Alabi who has two career tackles to his name. Malik Barrow did not play at all after taking a red-shirt season to recover from a knee injury during his senior year of high school. Can any of Thompson, Cornell, Alabi, or Barrow find playing time and crack a rotation deep with talent?
Finally, the Buckeyes recruited two defensive tackles in this recent recruiting class: Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage. Garrett was a high school teammate of quarterback Tate Martell at Bishop Gorman. Garrett is a four-star prospect rated sixth best at the position and 70th overall. Jerron Cage comes from in-state Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati, Ohio and was rated the 14th best DT.
With every single key contributor on the defensive line coming back, opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks should be worried. Not only do the Buckeyes have quality starters that will play on Sundays one day, they have the depth and ability to rotate. The unit should always be feeling fresh and be able to get to the quarterback on any play. Losing starters at linebackers and in the secondary is slightly counteracted with the talent of the defensive line. Expectations are sky high for this defensive line and over 40 sacks are not an unreasonable goal.
Other Positional Outlooks: