- By Marcus Hartman Staff Writer
Robert Landers earned his first start in an Ohio State uniform last Saturday.
That’s a big deal, right?
Not to Landers.
“Honestly my mindset about it really hasn’t changed,” the Wayne High School graduate said Wednesday. “My biggest thing from my first year playing to now is just come out and produce.
“(I want to) contribute as best I can to not only the defense but the team to try to come out with a win week to week. So I really didn’t pay it much attention. I’m just out there trying to have fun.”
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With a smile as wide as his 6-foot-1, 283-pound frame, Landers usually looks like he’s enjoying himself.
He’s often productive, too.
As part of a rotation on the defensive line that sometimes went three deep, the fourth-year junior led the group in tackles-for-loss per play in 2016 and ’17.
He picked up another stop behind the line of scrimmage Saturday against Oregon State, giving him 13.5 in a career that may be only about half over.
Landers has seen a lot in his time at Ohio State.
After redshirting in 2015, he played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman and 13 more last year.
With four players from last year’s rotation gone, including three who made NFL rosters, Landers has seen his role evolve from young guy looking to contribute to old hat hoping to hand down knowledge.
His message for a group of defensive tackles that includes five first- or second-year players who were four- or five-star recruits: The game will slow down as experience builds, so learn from any mistakes along the way.
“Once the game slows down, it’s almost like high school again,” Landers said. “The biggest thing when you’re young is learning how to be patient, especially coming out of high school with all these accolades.”
Despite being one of the older players on the defensive line, Landers is not among the first two or even three to be mentioned as next in line to jump to the pros.
If hearing that NFL scouts are probably more excited about Nick Bosa, Chase Young and Dre’Mont Jones was a slight to Landers, he didn’t let on this week.
“Oh man it’s exciting,” he said. “Sometimes I catch myself being a fan, just watching. Especially on our third down package. If I were playing quarterback, I would be terrified of them.”
He said he loves playing with such a deep and talented group because they feed off each other.
“The whole unit is unselfish,” Landers said. “We all get energy from each other. It really makes my life easier some days.”
Of course, “easy” is a relative term when it comes to playing in the trenches in the Big Ten.
The next challenge will come Saturday from an improving Rutgers team that beat Texas State 35-7 in its opener.
The Scarlet Knights had one of the worst offenses in college football last season, though an offensive line that returns three starters was one of the bright spots.
“All the way across the board their O-line is very good,” Landers said. “They’re very athletic. They’re big. They’re pretty mobile. They work well together. They’re good at picking up different stunts and communicating. It will be a good challenge for us that will show us where we are as a front four.”
The Scarlet Knights are sure to try to take advantage of some of the issues Ohio State’s defense had in a season-opening win against Oregon State, a 77-31 blowout that featured a lot of offensive fireworks on both sides.
“Those were little mistakes we made that were just very uncommon for our defense,” Landers said. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board after every game and just fix and tweak the little things, make sure we’re solidified with our fundamentals.”