Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Nick Bosa leads a talented group returning that also includes regulars Dre’mont Jones, Robert Landers, Jashon Cornell and Davon Hamilton.
A fourth-year junior from Wayne High School, Landers has been a regular contributor on a deep Ohio State defensive line for two seasons already.
He was credited with five tackles for loss last season after tallying 7.5 during his redshirt freshman campaign in 2016.
Landers fielded questions Thursday about potentially becoming a starter, but Johnson figures to continue heavily rotating his players to keep them fresh.
Where things are different for Landers might be off the field.
“It really hit me after our last game when we got back and were in winter workouts,” Landers said. “We’re in the weight room and I looked around and I was like, ‘We’re missing people. Where’s Tyquan? Where’s Jalyn? Where’s Sam?’ And it hit me like, ‘They’re gone.’
“It took me a week or two to really wrap my head around that, but I’m glad I’m now the old head of the room and excited to see how much of a leader role I take and how I can impact the guys on the team.”
Johnson is pleased with what he has seen so far.
“That’s the key: Those guys have to be leaders now. They have to stack. They can’t look behind ‘em,” Johnson said. “It’s a big challenge for those guys now because they are the horses. They are the guys leading the pack, and to lead the pack you’ve got to be good every day.”
Giving consistent effort is one of Landers’ strengths. It sort of has to be when you go 6-foot-1, 283 pounds in a world full of longer, taller and heavier athletes.
He led the defensive line in tackles for loss per play participated in two seasons ago, a testament to his relentlessness.
The competition to compile numbers figures to be fierce again this fall as sophomores Haskell Garrett and Malik Barrow, redshirt freshman Jerron Cage and newcomers Antwuan Jackson, Tommy Togiai and Taron Vincent join the party inside.
“We’re fast. We’re young. We’re athletic. We’re agile. We go hard. We’re tough,” Landers said. “So we’ve got some very big shoes to fill.
“The goal is always to enhance, but we’re a lot further along than I would have expected.”