Ohio State football: Sophomores poised to fortify defensive line

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State DE J.T. Tuimoloau on where he got his football acumen

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

COLUMBUS -- The quality of Ohio State’s defensive line could come down to whether or not the Buckeyes get a sophomore surge or slump from a handful of second-year players.

While hope remains some or all of the seniors in coach Larry Johnson’s room can unlock once and for all the ability that made them coveted recruits coming out of high school, Johnson has a heck of an insurance policy if they don’t.

ExploreVeteran Ohio State defensive linemen looking to make most of time they have left

Four members of the 2021 recruiting class are candidates to provide depth — or more.

Jack Sawyer was the headliner of the group and made a big splash last spring before having an up-and-down fall. He finished with 13 tackles, including three sacks, while playing 173 snaps.

Having added about 30 pounds to get to 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, he wants to be more consistent this fall.

“Once you find it, it clicks,” he said. “I think for me it kind of clicked halfway through the season. That’s when I really turned it on.”

Aside from dealing with bigger, better competition at the college level, Sawyer also found the daily grind itself provided a learning curve.

“That was the longest season I’ve ever had in my life playing football,” he said. “Just every day you’re here for at least four hours doing stuff, and it was kind of a lot for a lot of us younger guys at first. But then once you find a routine you got to stick with it, and I think that that can help everybody.”

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer describes what he's learned so far in college

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

In 247Sports Composite rankings, Sawyer was the No. 3 defensive line recruit in the country for 2021 — one spot behind fellow OSU recruit J.T. Tuimoloau.

While Sawyer was the first player to commit to OSU for ‘21 and enrolled at Ohio State last winter, Tuimoloau was the last player to join the class and did not arrive in Columbus until July.

To the surprise of head coach Ryan Day, Tuimoloau not only proved able to handle the college life right away but ended up playing in every game.

The now 6-4, 272-pounder had 17 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks, to set expectations sky high for his sophomore season.

How much better could he be with a full year’s worth of college workouts with OSU director of strength and conditioning Mickey Maroitti and his staff?

“The offseason went great,” Tuimoloau said. “I mean, I’m sure everybody knows it’s all work — all getting better, all changing your body. So to get a full offseason with Coach Mick and the rest of the training staff has been great. I loved every bit of it.”

Tuimoloau and Sawyer appear to have the potential to complement each other as the thunder and lightning of OSU ends, and a similar duo could develop inside.

Tyleik Williams made a surprising impact as a true freshman despite reporting at about 40 pounds over his playing weight.

Though at 360 pounds he looked like a nose guard, he still moved like a three-technique and notched 6.5 tackles for loss. He had six sacks and is poised to do much more this season after getting his weight under control.

“I mean it’s just God-given ability,” he said of his impact last season. “I know how to play football, I was just out of shape. I was too big — 360, you can’t play at 360.”

Given his impact, many wondered why Williams didn’t play more than his 183 snaps.

He knew.

“Last year was fatigue,” said Williams, whose senior season of high school football in Virginia was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was out of shape because I didn’t play for a year, but now it’s just staying in shape. I’m in shape right now. I can go way longer than last year. Last year after like two plays, I’d be tired.”

“I’m good this year. I’m ready to go.”

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State DT Tyleik Williams on preparing for sophomore season

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

If he is the pass rusher of the group, Mike Hall Jr. could be the run-stuffer.

The 6-2, 292-pounder played four games and redshirted as a four-star recruit out of Streetsboro, Ohio, but he is poised to try to earn a spot in the rotation this year.

He has moved to nose guard this spring, and early impressions are positive.

“I thought it was gonna be a little weird, but just talking to Coach Day and just getting up on film and really just playing hard and seeing the outcome of practice, I like it,” Hall said.

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