COLUMBUS, Ohio — No two players intrigue me more for Ohio State’s spring game Saturday than redshirt freshmen defensive tackles Dre’Mont Jones and Jashon Cornell.
Denzel Ward at cornerback and safeties Malik Hooker, Damon Webb and Eric Glover-Williams will draw my attention, as will Dante Booker, Chris Worley and Jerome Baker at linebacker.
On offense, how tackles Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince handle themselves will merit observation, and wouldn’t it be nice to see Austin Mack, Torrance Gibson and Terry McLaurin make some plays in the passing game and Mike Weber and Antonio Williams make some moves with the ball in their hands?
No offense to the guys who have done it, but spring is for the guys who haven’t. With 16 starters to replace, there are plenty of them, and that’s why Urban Meyer said the value of this spring game is higher than for any spring event in his Ohio State career.
But give me the defensive tackles. Not just the tackles, but the ends turned tackles.
Give me Jones and Cornell, talented outside rush options made more dangerous by their moves inside.
Cornell was the No. 91 overall recruitin the Class of 2015 according to 247sports.com, while Jones was No. 136.
Cornell was the No. 7 strongside defensive end, while Jones was No. 11. Highly-rated.
But at tackle? Through the roof.
The position changes have been made by design and by necessity. The outcome could produce an Ohio State defensive line always on the attack. Without Joey Bosa around to draw a couple blockers each play, a pass rush threat at each defensive line spot is a way to compensate.
The moves are what defensive line coach Larry Johnson described to us a year ago in “Middle Men,” our series of stories on finding and developing defensive tackles.
“I want a guy who has some basketball skills, who is able to move his feet, that’s the start of it,” Johnson told us last season. “You can take a big defensive end and move him inside and make him a great three technique because he can move.”
That could be Jones. That could be Cornell, as I reminded Johnson this spring of his words then.
“I felt when we recruited them they were defensive ends, but I knew they were going to be big,” Johnson said. “You take a quick guy like that, move him inside and he gets all that one-one-one protection and one-on-one blocking, so you really have a chance of a guy playing end on the inside and that’s a bonus for us (with) what we do defensively.”
How good does that sound?
Johnson said Jones and Cornell, both listed at 6-foot-3, are about 275 pounds right now. That’s still well short of someone like Adolphus Washington, the Buckeyes’ previous defensive end turned disruptive defensive tackle, who was 6-3 and about 300 pounds.
Maybe they have weight add. Maybe they’re both projecting at the pass-rushing, play-making defensive tackle spot while someone like Tracy Sprinkle (290 pounds) or Michael Hill (295 pounds) plays nose tackle.
Maybe you couldn’t put a defensive line of Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard at end and Jones and Cornell at tackle on the field on a regular basis. Maybe first and second down need at least one big run stuffer to take up double teams inside. (But the Buckeyes could, and have, put four pass rushers out on third down.)
Or maybe Cornell and Jones can do it all together, every down.
Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington played together inside as the starting tackles on the 2014 defensive line and they were both more in the play-making mode.
However it works out, you have to like what the Buckeyes are trying.
A year ago, the depth at defensive tackle was Urban Meyer’s top issue. He talked about the lack of depth there all the time. So while losing the top three tackles to graduation – Washington, Tommy Schutt and Joel Hale – you can’t assume that the backups he worried about last season are going to be the ones taking over playing time this season.
That’s a group that includes Sprinkle, Hill and Donovan Munger, who has been out this spring because of health reasons.
Meyer wants more. Meyer wants action on the inside. So the Buckeyes went looking for it at other positions, knowing that Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes give the Buckeyes three top ends who are going to suck up most of the playing time.
Why waste Jones and Cornell behind them?
“You always got to fit the need first, and these guys really fit what we’re looking for,” Johnson said.
With Jones especially, the Buckeyes didn’t have to look far for an answer. Recovering from injury most of last season, the St. Ignatius grad popped on the radar during bowl practice, and he continued the kind of play that draws attention this spring.
“You could see the improvement, you could see him starting to take off, the first time you’ve seen him run,” Johnson said of what Jones looked like in December. “He had a good twitch.”
This week when asked about players he wants to see Saturday, Meyer listed many but singled out one.
“The guy that has really come on is Dre’Mont Jones,” Meyer said.
That’s just what he wants at tackle.
Oh, and five-star freshman Nick Bosa might play tackle, too, when he arrives at Ohio State this summer and gets ready to compete for playing time and even a starting spot in preseason camp.
He was the No. 1 strongside defensive end in the nation in the Class of 2016 according to 247sports.com.
Jones, Cornell and Bosa – ends at heart – all playing tackle this season, with Lewis, Hubbard and Holmes at end?
Watch the defensive tackles Saturday, then keep watching all fall.