COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Arguably no Ohio State player had his role change this past offseason as much as defensive end Jack Sawyer.
The Pickerington North graduate was the No. 1-ranked high school player in Ohio for the class of 2021. Expectations for defensive ends are high thanks to the likes of Nick and Joey Bosa, Chase Young, and Sam Hubbard. Sophomore J.T. Tuimoloau, the highest-ranked defensive recruit in Ohio State history, surpassed those expectations last year. Sawyer did not, but his ability wasn’t the main reason.
“He didn’t have the improvement or the big jump he could have last year because he got involved in the ‘Jack’ stuff,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “Maybe he wasn’t as focused as he could have been to make those improvements at d-end.”
“Jack” is the position Knowles has been using since his defensive coordinator days at Western Michigan. The position is a hybrid between defensive end and linebacker. Sawyer played the position more than any other Ohio State player last season. Knowles estimated it was only used 15% of the time, well below the 33% he was aiming for.
“We weren’t as productive out of it,” Knowles said. “You have to go with what works.”
Through the first two games, Sawyer has taken more than 60% of the snaps at defensive end. That number will most likely increase as the Buckeyes play better teams.
“I feel very comfortable being back at defensive end. You know, I feel happy about it,” Sawyer said. “When me, Knowles and [line coach Larry Johnson] talked about it after the season, that’s what I wanted to do. And that’s what they thought I was best at, too.”
Johnson believes Sawyer has only scratched the surface of his capabilities.
“You can see that he’s got the fire in his belly to really know where he’s got to go to get to be a great player,” Johnson said in February. “He’s there. He’s just now doing it all the time. And I like the fact that he’s in that moment, he’s in that thought process like, ‘OK, here’s where I’m going, here’s where I’m at.’ And so that’s pretty cool.”
Sawyer and the rushmen have yet to record a sack this season, but they’ll have plenty of chances Saturday at noon at Ohio Stadium against a Western Kentucky team that likes to pass. The Hilltoppers rank fifth in the country in passing attempts per game and average 327 yards, 12th-best in the nation.