Ohio State football: Larry Johnson sorting through talented players all along defensive line

Even without his most experienced player practicing, coach Larry Johnson has no lack of defensive linemen to work with this spring at Ohio State.

The veteran mentor has so many able bodies practicing up front, he couldn’t even remember all of their names Friday.

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“You’ve got Taron Vincent,” Johnson said beginning to list the candidates for playing time at defensive tackle. “Jashon Cornell is fighting for a job behind him, and then another guy who’s got to fall in and do a great job and that’s Dwayne Haskett. Err, not Dwayne Haskett but Haskett has done a great job for us.”

After a second, he corrected himself — “Garrett Haskell” — before taking another question, though that wasn’t quite right, either.

While Johnson might have had former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins on his mind, the name he was searching for was Haskell Garrett, who is battling Vincent, Cornell and Jerron Cage for the right to replace All-Big Ten tackle Dre’Mont Jones.

At the other interior position in Ohio State’s 4-3 set — nose guard — Johnson is overseeing a competition involving Davon Hamilton, Antwuan Jackson and Tommy Togiai.

“I feel really good about the three guys I have,” Johnson said. “I said the other day this is probably the best I’ve felt about three guys in a long time. I can interchange anybody and I’m gonna get the same net worth, same work from each guy. Those guys have had a great spring so far.”

That he might have a hard time telling them keeping them all arranged in his mind is understandable given how similar they are.

Vincent, Togiai, Jackson, Garrett and Cage are all underclassmen listed at 6-foot-2 weighting between 295 and 300 pounds.

Cornell, a converted defensive end, goes an inch taller and 15-20 pounds lighter while fellow senior Hamilton is 6-4, 308, and stands out not only because he is the tallest of the group but also the only one who was not a four- or five-star recruit.

A three-star prospect from powerhouse Pickerington Central, he’s done just fine for himself so far, filling in last fall and again this spring for an injured Robert Landers.

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Since Johnson knows what he has in Hamilton and Landers, his focus this spring is sorting out which of the younger players deserve to be in the rotation this fall.

“You can never have too many,” Johnson said. “You’re one play down and the next guy is up. I’ve never thought that we have too many. We’ve got a plan to play those guys. It’s a long game. We average about 75 plays a game so if each one of them can get 20 plays or some play 35 here and there, I’m never gonna say we have too many. I like where we are right now.”

The picture is also crowded at end where senior Jonathon Cooper and junior Chase Young are returning starters and no less than six youngsters are vying for time behind them.

Sophomore Tyreke Smith saw the most playing time among true freshmen ends last season and is widely viewed as a potential breakout player this fall after a full year under Johnson’s tutelage.

“Tyreke has always been quick. He’s always been in great shape. Now it’s about learning to play football,” Johnson said of the Cleveland Heights native. "Last year was a big learning curve, I can tell you that. Now we’re seeing how good he can be. Tyreke’s got a great future ahead of him.”

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After cautioning the hype train should not leave the station for Smith until he shows what he can do in a larger sample size, Johnson said fellow Class of 2018 members Jovante Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday are also coming on as spring passes the midway point and praised his veterans for leading the group.

“The two guys, the mainstays, Coop and Chase are doing a great job managing those guys and making sure they uphold the tradition,” Johnson said.

While he is looking for some his second-year prospects to take a leap forward in 2019, Johnson is also working with a pair of early enrollees at end and likes what he sees so far from true freshmen Zach Harrison and Noah Potter.

“It’s a faster pace for them right now, and their eyes are big and wide, but I’ll tell you what I like about them right now is they are working at it. That’s all I ask of them,” Johnson said. “Play hard, keep learning and the rest will come to you.”

No BB? No Problem 

Landers, the aforementioned most experience Buckeye defensive lineman, has been out most of spring while nursing shoulder, back and knee injuries.

Johnson said the fifth-year senior from Wayne High School, who goes by “BB”, would be available if it were the regular season.

“He would. We’re just trying to be precautious,” Johnson said. “I’ve got three nose guards inside who are really banging it out right now, so why risk injury in spring football?”

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