Despite losing the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft and another All-Big Ten standout in the third round, Ohio State figures to be loaded up front on defense again.
While Nick Bosa (now a 49er) missed most of the season with a core injury, Dre’Mont Jones (headed to Denver with the No. 71 overall pick) was one of the team’s most productive players.
How Jones is replaced will be a big story early in the season, as will the amount of depth coach Larry Johnson can build at end.
Here is a look at the players who will comprise the defensive line for the Buckeyes this season:
Returning starters: Ends Jonathon Cooper and Chase Young, tackle Robert Landers
Rising: Jashon Cornell, Tyreke Smith
Others to know: Jerron Cage, Tyler Friday, Haskell Garrett, Davon Hamilton, Antwuan Jackson, Javontea Jean-Baptiste, Tommy Togiai, Taron Vincent, Alex Williams, Aaron Cox, Noah Donald, Chris Kuhn, Zaid Hamdan
Newcomers: Zach Harrison, Noah Potter, Jaden McKenzie
Bosa’s season-ending injury was a devastating blow to the Buckeyes, but it paved the way for Young to play a larger role. Despite playing much of the season with two sprained ankles, Young tallied a team-high 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. How good will the former five-star recruit be as a junior if he is healthy all year?
Cooper figures to be among the team’s senior leaders while sophomores Friday and Smith and redshirt freshmen Jean-Baptiste and Williams should have a spirited preseason competition to fill the two-deep at end. Johnson likes to rotate, so we could see a least a little bit of all of them.
Smith was regarded to have been one of the best Buckeyes this spring, but he recently shared on social media he needed some sort of surgery this summer, so his status is unclear.
Ohio State is also deep inside where Landers, a fifth-year senior form Wayne, hopes to have another productive season as a senior and classmate Cornell figures to get the first crack at filling in for Jones.
The 6-foot-1, 285-pound Landers has logged 48 tackles, including 17.5 for loss and two sacks, in 38 career games and is a strong candidate to be a captain this fall.
Hamilton, another fifth-year senior, is a proven backup for Landers at nose tackle while Togiai and Jackson both had strong springs according to Johnson.
Cornell will be pushed by a talented trio of Garrett, Vincent and Cage, who were all highly-regarded recruits in their respective classes.
Hamdan is a sophomore walk-on from Mason.
Harrison is a five-star freshman from Lewis Center (Ohio) Olentangy Orange who enrolled early and impressed the coaching staff. He was the No. 1 player in Ohio last year and the No. 2 defensive end in the country. Look for him to potentially find a spot in a special package that takes advantage of his athleticism.
Potter is a four-star freshman end from Mentor, Ohio, who also enrolled early while McKenzie is a three-star tackle prospect from Wake Forest, N.C.
Quotable: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison on figuring out the best role for each player: “You’ve got to be really really conscious of what’s going to allow Chase Young to play the best he can play. What is that call? If you have three other guys like him up front or two deep of guys like that, what’s going to allow them to play the best they can play? If it’s five defenses instead of 10, then you play five. There’s also the part where you’d like to get that young freshman or young sophomore that’s really starting to prove himself without having to do everything plug him into one or two defenses where you have a better athlete running the stuff.”
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