COLUMBUS, Ohio – You could understand why defensive line coach Larry Johnson had a smile on his face last Thursday while meeting with the media to talk about his position group. Johnson, entering his sixth year on the Buckeyes’ staff, has a unit in 2019 that blends youth, experience, talent, production and potential – enough to make any coach happy.
“The first six days of practice have been really good,” Johnson said last week. “We’re concentrating on fundamentals and technique; trying to take advantage of what we have, which is a lot of depth on the inside. We’re trying to get six or seven guys ready to play. I like where we’re at – we have some room to improve – but so far, so good.”
When fall camp opened Aug. 2, the Buckeyes had 20 defensive linemen on the roster – including three of the four that started in the final game of 2018, a 28-23 victory in the Rose Bowl. Those 20 are (listed alphabetically):
• Jerron Cage – In his third season with the Buckeyes, Cage redshirted in 2017 and appeared in three games last season.
• Jonathon Cooper – A veteran of 33 career games and a 13-game starter in 2018, Cooper was fifth on the team last year with 6.5 tackles-for-loss and had 25 total tackles.
• Jashon Cornell – A veteran of 32 games, Cornell has played both defensive end and defensive tackle during his time at Ohio State. He’s back at tackle, and liking it.
• Aaron Cox – Cox is in his third season with the program after initially walking on to the team in the summer of 2017.
• Noah Donald – A fourth-year junior, Donald walked onto the team in the fall of 2016. He is continuing to rehabilitate an injury during this fall camp.
• Tyler Friday – One of four defensive linemen in the 2018 recruiting class, Friday worked his way into the rotation last year as a true freshman and appeared in 10 games.
• Haskell Garrett – A true junior, Garrett is a veteran of 22 career games – including all 14 last year for the Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions.
• Zaid Hamdan – Hamdan is in his second season with the program after initially joining the team in January 2018 as an invited walk-on.
• Davon Hamilton – Hamilton has played in 40 career games, including all 14 last year with three starts. He has 10.5 career TFLs for minus 32 yards.
• Zach Harrison – A five-star prospect and the nation’s top-ranked defensive end in the 2019 class, Harrison enrolled last January and took part in spring drills.
• Antwuan Jackson – A member of the 2018 recruiting class, Jackson played in four games last season after arriving from Blinn Junior College. He graduated with his degree in human development and family science this spring.
• Javontae Jean-Baptiste – A redshirt freshman, Jean-Baptiste added nearly 30 pounds to his 6-5 frame since last year and continues to positioned himself to be a contributor.
• Robert Landers – Landers is a fan favorite and veteran of 39 career games with nine starts, all of which came last season. He has contributed 51 tackles, including 17.5 tackles-for-loss.
• Jaden McKenzie – McKenzie is a true freshman defensive tackle who helped his Wake Forest (N.C.) H.S. team win three consecutive class 4A state titles.
• Noah Potter – Potter enrolled in January and took part in spring practice. He was a four-star prospect and the No. 6 overall player in Ohio.
• Tyreke Smith – Smith earned significant playing time as a true freshman last year, appearing in 13 of 14 games and contributing nine tackles.
• Tommy Togiai – Togiai was one of 18 total true freshmen who saw playing time last year and was the team leader among freshmen defensive linemen in tackles (10) and tackles for loss (2.0).
• Taron Vincent – As a true freshman in 2018, Vincent appeared in 10 games and totaled three tackles. He’s primed for an increased role in 2019.
• Alex Williams – A redshirt freshman defensive end, Williams earned OSU Scholar-Athlete honors during his first year on campus.
• Chase Young – One of the top defensive ends not only in the Big Ten but nationally, Young led the 2018 Buckeyes in both tackles for loss (15.5) and sacks (10.5). He is a first-team preseason All-American by the Sporting News.
When classes begin on Aug. 20, the Buckeyes will also have the services of Brett Novick, a freshman from Katonah, N.Y. and John Jay High School.
Much Production Returns
Johnson’s 2019 group returns a total of 228 career games played and 35 starts with the most veteran members of the group fifth-year seniors Jashon Cornell, Davon Hamilton and Robert Landers along with true senior Jonathon Cooper and true junior Chase Young.
“We play against some teams in our league who make a living off of fifth-year seniors,” head coach Ryan Day said recently. “They’re 22-year-old men, and sometimes we’re playing with freshmen because they are so talented we want to get them on the field right away, and they’re 18-year-olds. So I think it’s good to have a good influx of older guys, guys who are 21, 22 years old that are men who will bring leadership and chemistry.”
Last Thursday, Johnson said that the Buckeyes could go as deep as six players in a rotation at the nose tackle and 3-technique position on the inside of the line. Those groups include Cornell, Taron Vincent and Haskell Garrett (3-technique) along with Landers, Hamilton and Tommy Togiai (none tackles).
Top NFL Talent Developed Here
In his five seasons as Ohio State’s defensive line coach, Larry Johnson has produced eight NFL Draft choices, including a total of five picks in the last two years. Some of his prized pupils include:
• Nick Bosa, the 2017 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and second overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers;
• Joey Bosa, the 2014 and 2015 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and third overall selection by the San Diego Chargers in the 2016 NFL Draft;
• Tyquan Lewis, the 2016 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and a third-round NFL Draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts in 2018.
• Dre’Mont Jones, a first-team All-Big Ten performer in 2018 and a third-round selection of the Denver Broncos in last April’s draft.
In 2017 alone, Johnson’s group had five players move on to the NFL including three draft picks: Lewis, Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati Bengals) and Jalyn Holmes (Minnesota Vikings).
All-Americans Developed Here
When Dre’Mont Jones earned first team All-American honors from College Football News in 2018, he became the fifth Buckeye coached by Johnson to garner All-America status. Nick Bosa was an All-American in 2017 and his brother, Joey was a consensus All-American his last two years while Michael Bennett earned All-America honors in 2014, giving Johnson a total of 11 All-American defensive linemen.
2019 Defensive Line by the Numbers
14 – Big Ten Defensive Players or Linemen of the Year coached by Larry Johnson, more than any program has in the Big Ten over the last 22 years. After coaching nine such honorees at Penn State, he’s seen Joey Bosa win the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Year twice (2014, 2015) and the defensive player of the year award (2014), along with Tyquan Lewis (2016) and Nick Bosa (2017) as Defensive Lineman of the Year.
8 – First round NFL Draft picks coached by Johnson. He’s helped produce the NFL’s No. 1 (Courtney Brown, 2000), No. 2 (Nick Bosa, 2019) and No. 3 (Joey Bosa, 2016) overall selections.
10.5 – Team leading sacks by junior Chase Young in 2018. Young is aiming to become just the second player in program history with multiple seasons of double digit sacks. The other: Mike Vrabel in 1994 and 1995.
99.0 – Tackles for loss by the Ohio State defense last season, second most in the Big Ten and No. 17 nationally. Of that total, 36.5 TFLs were produced by defensive linemen who return in 2019.
86.0 – Sacks over the last two years by Ohio State’s defense, second most in the Big Ten and No. 10 nationally.