Buckeye Breakdown: Is this the year Ohio State has depth at defensive tackle?
As the season continues to grow closer, Ohio State’s depth chart at each position is beginning to take shape. After losing 16 starters, including 12 during the NFL draft, this will be one of the program’s youngest teams in recent memory.
Join Landof10.com as we break down each of the position groups and what Buckeye fans can expect from each one this fall.
Next up is defensive tackle, where the Buckeyes hope that better depth can overcome the loss of top-end talent.
Assessing the roster
Lost: Joel Hale, Tommy Schutt, Adolphus Washington
Added: Malik Barrow
Returning: Joshua Alabi, Jashon Cornell, Davon Hamilton, Michael Hill, Dre’mont Jones, Robert Landers, Tracy Sprinkle
Projected depth chart
- Defensive tackle: Tracy Sprinkle, Dre’mont Jones
- Defensive tackle: Michael Hill, Davon Hamilton
Ohio State loses both starters and a trio of veterans, but this can still be a position of strength for defensive line coach Larry Johnson and the Buckeyes. It starts with Hill and Sprinkle, two athletic, big men who showed toward the end of last season that they have the potential to become impact players.
Where the Buckeyes can really succeed, however, is through numbers. Once viewed as a recruiting weakness, defensive tackle has been restocked over the last few recruiting cycles and has been strengthened by the conversions of 4-star defensive ends Cornell and Jones from defensive end. Both were ranked in the top 150 of the 247Sports composite rankings, and they bring the speed and athleticism of defensive end to the interior of the line. Their fellow class of 2015 signees, Landers and Hamilton, are also highly regarded players who could make an impact as redshirt freshmen.
It remains to be seen what the impact of those players can be, but there’s no denying that there are more viable options than ever to choose from.
Can Hill and Sprinkle make the transition from rotation player to starter? Washington, a third-round pick in the NFL Draft and an All-American, won’t be easily replaced. Both defensive tackles had their moments last season, but playing starter snaps is a much bigger responsibility than coming in situationally based on down, distance or time of game.
Johnson said both players will have to step up from the level they played at last season in order for the defensive line to be at its best.
“They have proven that they are worthy of going on the field and playing,” he said. “They played a lot last year. Now, there is a difference between substituting and starting. I think they have to handle that role. If they can handle it, the ceiling is the sky.”
There’s also the question of whether the rotation players can come in and provide the same impact as the starters. There have been times over the last two seasons when a rotation at defensive tackle hasn’t materialized because the drop-off from starter to backup was too severe. Can Jones, Hamilton, Cornell and Landers show they can be counted on this season? If so, it would be a big boost for not only the interior or defensive line but the OSU defense as a whole.
What to expect
In a word, balance. This group of defensive tackles is probably the least top-heavy from a talent standpoint since Meyer’s arrival, and that should bode well for a team that strives to rotate players on the interior.
It will be interesting to see how Joey Bosa’s departure at defensive end affects the rest of the defensive line. Bosa, the No. 3 overall NFL draft pick constantly saw double and triple teams last season, which freed up his counterparts. Johnson said he expects less of that this season, and he hopes the fact that the defensive line is more balanced will allow them to change things each week as needed.
“There might be a guy (getting double teamed) one week and another guy the next week and that is what you want,” he said. “I try to sell that to them. It’s not one guy now. All of you guys have a responsibility. (Opponents) have to figure out who to block and who to double team. So I think that makes it, not easier, but it gives us a chance to go in each game not having to change our game plan.”