Next man up isn’t just a ridiculous sports mantra. It also is a way of life for Ohio State and its football team, especially since Urban Meyer and his NFL draft-dominating program took over in Columbus.
For defensive line coach Larry Johnson and his “Rushmen,” replacing one star with another is just the way it goes. When you lose Michael Bennett and John Simon, you replace them with Adolphus Washington, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence. When you lose Joey Bosa and Washington, you replace them with Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper.
Next January, Ohio State is set to suffer some major losses in Johnson’s room. Tyquan Lewis, the 2016 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, potential first-round pick Sam Hubbard, and four-year contributor Jalyn Holmes all are likely off to the NFL. There are rumblings that Dre’Mont Jones could test the NFL waters as well. The Buckeyes once again will have to reload.
The building of the Class of 2018 — the reinforcements — is off to a good start. Ohio State has two players committed along the defensive line, and each is ranked among the top 50 overall players in the country.
The Buckeyes have a verbal commitment from the nation’s top-ranked defensive tackle (Taron Vincent, No. 11 overall in 247Sports Composite rankings) and the second-ranked strongside defensive end (Brenton Cox, No. 43 overall). And, if things go well, the Buckeyes’ recruiting is not done on the line.
About two months ago, we took a look at the biggest names to watch among the defensive front four — defensive ends and defensive tackles. Today, we begin separating the real from the fake among those prospects.
Ohio State should return Bosa, Cooper, Chase Young, Rashod Berry and Darius Slade at this position in 2018, with the understanding that it’s likely to be the final season for Bosa. That means there’s a serious need to rebuild on the edge, and the commitment of Cox has them off to a great start in that endeavor.
Who are the best remaining choices to join Cox? I think it’s reasonable to assume that Ohio State ends up with three defensive ends at a minimum. The target everyone wants to talk about the most is a recent Penn State decommitment.
Micah Parsons, the 5-star prospect from Harrisburg, Pa., is a real contender to end up wearing a Buckeyes uniform in college. Johnson has made Parsons a top priority, and though he’s not likely to decide until signing day, he’s a player Ohio State will hold a spot for.
Parsons has been to Columbus multiple times in the last year, and Ohio State commits are working very hard to get him in the class.
Ohio State has been at the top of the list for Tyreke Smith, a Cleveland Heights, Ohio, 4-star talent for months — and well before the Buckeyes ever offered him a scholarship. Penn State and Notre Dame, as well as USC and UCLA, will continue to be thorns for Ohio State, but coach Tony Alford’s relationship with Smith has been strong from the start.
If we learned anything from the pursuit of 2017 wide receiver Jaylen Harris, a teammate of Smith at Heights, it’s that an extended recruitment might not indicate drama, but rather be designed to help other teammates get some college attention. I think Smith will end up at Ohio State, but it could be a while until that happens. One note: This is not a typical Ohio kid. Smith is from California, so there’s not as big of a built-in advantage for the Buckeyes as you’d expect.
Daniel Carson is talked about less than the other two players on this list, but there remains a strong interest on both sides here.
Carson is a 3-star prospect from Independence, Mo. He’s the country’s 19th-ranked strongside defensive end, whom Ohio State offered over the winter. He visited Columbus in early spring and has remained in contact with the Buckeyes since. Johnson was in Missouri a week ago to visit, signaling that, yes, this is still a player Ohio State covets. There’s little wasted time or energy on the recruiting trail these days among Meyer’s staff.
Let’s move on to the defensive tackle position…
Though the Buckeyes will lose Tracy Sprinkle, Michael Hill and maybe Jones at defensive tackle following the 2017 season, most seem to think the defensive end position is a touch higher on the “must do” list than defensive tackle. The way Ohio State has used its linemen in recent years would indicate that both positions, and flexibility among those playing them, are paramount.
Ramsey (N.J.) 4-star lineman Tyler Friday fits that mold almost perfectly. The nation’s No. 2-ranked defensive tackle is a 3-technique prospect in the mold of Washington and Jones. He’s very high on Ohio State, as well as Michigan and Penn State.
To land Friday, whom the Buckeyes offered in December 2015, Ohio State will have to show him how the school and the program fit his needs better than any other school. His visit to Columbus in March was a good step in that direction, but with Vincent committed, it’s likely other schools are trying to convince him he’s a secondary option for the Buckeyes. That might be true, because Ohio State would like two defensive tackles, and they’ve got one already.
Life is all about perception, right?
Aeneas Hawkins, who attends Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati, is one of Ohio’s most intriguing prospects. He has offers from throughout the country, and the 4-star defensive tackle is taking his time to make sure of his choice.
Recent speculation is that Cincinnati – where his father, Artrell, starred for the Bearcats – might have the edge in his recruitment, but I continue to believe that if the Buckeyes want him, they’ll land him. Hawkins initially had planned a May 10 announcement, but that is no longer the case.
Though he recently committed to Tennessee – and, if we’re being honest, is unlikely to flip from his home-state school – Lawless remains a player of note in my mind. His recruitment had been very quiet until he showed up for an Ohio State visit in March. That visit impressed him, of course, but it’s hard to say no to the pressures of home.
However, what if Tennessee struggles again and Butch Jones were to find himself removed from his job in Knoxville? In that case, all bets are off.
Of course, there are always new names and faces bound to pop up on this list over the next few months, but right now, if you’re looking for the next group of defensive linemen at Ohio State, this is a good place to start the conversation.