COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sometimes, the most difficult thing for an athlete — or any person, really — to do is to admit to themselves that maybe, just maybe, they’ve not done as much as they could. To acknowledge that we’ve been lazy, to accept fault for our shortcomings or failures, is just contrary to our human instincts.
So when Demetrius Knox, who is entering his redshirt sophomore season at Ohio State, says he was lazy, understand that it is isn’t an easy admission to make. After two years of not making any real impact for the Buckeyes, Knox, the country’s fifth-ranked offensive guard when he signed with Ohio State in 2014, isn’t afraid to say he didn’t put in the work he needed to.
“(Ohio State coach Urban) Meyer spoke on it a lot, about how when we got here there were guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Taylor Decker and others here in front of us, a lot of us younger guys may have gotten a little complacent along the way,” Knox told Landof10.com during the Buckeyes media day on Sunday. “I may not have gone as hard as I could have, with guys like Taylor Decker in your spot. It was not like it was open, so I was complacent.
“Now that it everything is really open, everyone is going harder and pushing each other to get better.”
Ohio State’s new offensive line coach Greg Studrawa agrees with Knox’s self-assessment. His inexperienced linemen, specifically Knox and another guard, Matt Burrell, Jr., have been working hard to change their circumstances.
“I have seen a different level with the energy. I’ve seen a different level of physicalness, especially from Demetrius and Matt,” Studrawa said. “Branden (Bowen) has been coming, he’s been moving from right to left. He’s learning the technique on both sides and he’s coming along well, but Demetrius and Matt have both been putting out an outstanding work ethic.”
In the last two seasons, Knox has worked with Ed Warinner, now Ohio State’s tight ends coach, but now it’s Studrawa. While both coaches share some similar philosophies, they coach differently and that’s helping to create more complete offensive linemen.
“I believe they’re both great coaches. They’re offensive geniuses, especially coach (Ed) Warinner,” Knox said. “Having Warinner as the offensive line coach, he was more of a big picture guy, helping me understand everything about a play, seeing the whole offense. Coach Stud is more a detail-oriented guy. He focuses on the smaller things that really have helped me learn more about my position.”
Learning the position is great — and necessary — but to play big minutes and a big role at Ohio State, it usually comes down to just being better than the guy you’re competing against. Are you doing what is asked to earn your time?
“They’ve been becoming more physical, which I challenged them to do in the spring,” Studrawa said. “I asked them to ‘get your technique down, be physical, be able to move somebody off the football.’ That’s what I want to see, so it’s been a pleasant surprise.”
Part of the surprise on the offensive line has been the emergence of freshman Michael Jordan, who is pushing both Knox and Burrell for the final starting position. According to the 6-foot-4, 308-pound Knox, that’s been a good thing for his own mindset. He knows that competing hard is the only way he could eventually win the starting spot.
“I feel pretty lucky, actually. When he got here, he was a tackle, and they moved him to guard and that has definitely pushed me to make myself better,” Knox said of his freshman teammate. “I may have thought the position was a lock for myself and been, again, kind of complacent when he got here. He’s made me work and I’m happy he’s here.
“If I want to start, I need to keep doing what I am doing, going hard every play. I need to just keep working hard. You know, we have that “4-to-6, A-to-B, plus two” thing here. I need keep giving that extra effort, going two steps after the whistle. There can’t be any more complacency.”
After struggles early in his career at Ohio State — a common occurrence for players from small, private high schools like Fort Worth (Texas) power All Saints Episcopal — Knox is happy he’s at Ohio State, too.
“I had my moments,” he said when asked how hard his adjustment to the bright lights of Columbus has been. “Of course, looking at other opportunities, and having friends at other universities, just hearing them talk, I know we have the best situation here. Everything I need to succeed, we have at Ohio State and it’s up to me to take advantage of it. I just have to keep giving that extra effort.
“This is the best of the best here, this is Ohio State. The competition here — the games I’ve played in so far — our practices are harder than our games. We’re going against the best offense and defense in the country every single day.”
The best of the Buckeyes’ best – at least from last year’s team – is gone and getting dressed in NFL locker rooms. That means, if the time isn’t now for Knox, the time may never come. First real playing time? That doesn’t matter to Ohio State fans and it sure doesn’t matter to Ohio State coaches. Nothing less than what the “monsters” who were playing ahead of him gave is expected. Nothing less is accepted.
“There can be no drop off,” Knox concluded when asked what he’d consider a successful 2016 season. “The fans expect a national championship. We expect a national championship, even if we don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, that’s what we’re going for. We’re here to win championships.”