COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson knows what it takes for a college player to be successful. He’s helped propel some of the most talented Buckeyes into the NFL, including Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, Chase Young and Sam Hubbard.
Under his leadership, several Ohio State defensive linemen are primed to have their best season yet as arguably the best unit in college football.
Because the Buckeyes are so deep at defensive line, freshman don’t usually get a chance to play a significant number of snaps. But that will likely change this season with the presence of two of the best incoming freshman from the class of 2021 and an injury that will keep Tyler Friday off the field for ‘most of the season,’ according to coach Ryan Day.
Pickerington North grad Jack Sawyer has been with the Buckeyes since the spring, but did not play his senior year of high school to “focus on training and preparation” after tearing his MCL at the end of his junior season with the Panthers.
“I mean expectations are very high because he’s a local guy but he still has to get on the field and play,” Johnson said. “He hasn’t played football for almost a year and a half now and spring football doesn’t really count.”
Sawyer was ranked as the sixth-best player in 2021 while his teammate, J.T. Tuimoloau, was ranked No. 2 behind only OSU quarterback Quinn Ewers.
Tuimoloau committed to the Buckeyes on July 4 and is the highest-rated defensive commit in school history. Despite only practicing two weeks at OSU, Tuimoloau has already had his black stripe removed and is making a push to get playing time this season.
“He came into town in great shape,” Johnson said of Tuimoloau. “He’s got a really high football IQ . . . and he’s a video guy. He’s a study guy and I think that’s why he’s starting to advance so fast because he’s got some things that you have to have if you want to be an elite player.”
While Sawyer and Tuimoloau are both undeniably talented, they have very different skill sets.
“Jack is a quick, very explosive player. J.T. is just the opposite: explosive, quick and powerful,” Johnson said. “He can play on top of the center in a six technique and knock the line of scrimmage back . . . Jack is a finesse guy. He’s going to find a way to beat you and he’s a highly competitive guy.”
Ohio State has two other true freshman, Mike Hall and Tyleik Williams, who might also get opportunities to play on the interior line. Johnson says it will take time for them to adapt to the pace of the college game.
“There’s some growing pains they have to go through. They’re working at it. I’m really happy with where they are right now,” Johnson said. “My push is to get the young players ready as quick as possible cause you never know when they’re going to be in the game.”
Junior defensive tackle Taron Vincent says he has confidence the younger players can get the job done if their number is called.
“All the freshman, they can go man,” Vincent said. “They’re coming in and getting right to it. Yeah all them guys work hard. Tyleik, Mike, J.T., Jack, everybody. All the young guys are really good.”