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Ohio State 2017 Spring Positional Preview: Defensive Tackle
By Tony Gerdeman
The Buckeyes return all of their defensive tackles from last season.
Photo by Jim Davidson

A year ago at this time, the Ohio State defensive tackles were one of the biggest question marks on the roster. They were replacing a pair of starters and doing it with only two players who had even played before. Then, in the first game of the season, Tracy Sprinkle was lost for the season, forcing those young players to mature much more quickly than expected.

Players like Dre'Mont Jones, Robert Landers, and Davon Hamilton all stepped up and solidified a unit that now returns everyone from a season ago, including Sprinkle. There is going to be a fierce competition inside for the Buckeyes this spring, and defensive line coach Larry Johnson wouldn't have it any other way.

The Players

9 Jashon Cornell (6-3 280) Redshirt Sophomore
Played in just five games due to injuries a season ago...had a fantastic spring in 2016...played in three of the Buckeyes' final five games last year...quick and athletic...

53 Davon Hamilton (6-4 297) Redshirt Sophomore
Played in all 13 games last season...finished with 10 tackles...2.5 tackles for loss...0.5 sacks...was the backup to Dre'Mont Jones...was a disruptive pass-rushing force in the spring...
55 Malik Barrow (6-2 288) Redshirt Freshman
Redshirted last season...enrolled early, but was recovering from an injury...should get a good, long look this spring...
58 Joshua Alabi (6-5 295) Redshirt Sophomore
Played in five games last season...finished with two tackles and a fumble recovery...dealt with health issues early in his career which put him behind the rest of his class...
67 Robert Landers (6-1 285) Redshirt Sophomore
Very effective at times last season...played in every game...7.5 of his 16 tackles were in the backfield...also had a sack...great leverage and extremely quick...
77 Michael Hill (6-3 305) Redshirt Senior
As selfless as you want your nose tackle to be...started every game last season...21 tackles...3 tackles for loss...teammates constantly credited him for OSU's success in run defense...
86 Dre'Mont Jones (6-3 280) Redshirt Sophomore
Started the final 12 games of the season last year in place of Tracy Sprinkle...finished sixth on the team with 52 tackles...also added four tackles for loss...very active for an interior player...
93 Tracy Sprinkle (6-3 293) Redshirt Senior
Was injured in the season opener...due to his ability to rush the passer, was expected to be part of the Rushmen package...may not be ready to go for the spring...
94 Dylan Thompson (6-5 280) Redshirt Junior
Missed the season due to academics...

The Depth Chart

Note: This is a projection of the depth chart for the first practice. There will likely be some shifting from nose tackle to the three technique here and there.

Nose Tackle
77 Michael Hill
67 Robert Landers OR
53 Davon Hamilton
58 Joshua Alabi

Defensive Tackle
86 Dre'Mont Jones
9 Jashon Cornell OR
55 Malik Barrow
94 Dylan Thompson

The Storyline

Like the situation at defensive end, there isn't really much conflict to focus on. Ohio State returns everyone who played last year, though Tracy Sprinkle might have to wait until fall camp in order to fully take part. Even without him, however, the Buckeyes have five redshirt sophomores who are poised to take this defense wherever it is going to go. Senior nose tackle Michael Hill is a quiet senior leader and provides an example for each of his teammates. Then you've got a young guy like Malik Barrow readying to provide plenty of evidence of what he can do. While this isn't the most proven group, they certainly have some pretty good answers to some difficult questions.

Three Questions

1. Can the Buckeyes find a viable nose tackle behind Michael Hill and Robert Landers?

2. Will this position group repeat its excellent 2016 spring camp?

3. What will we see from Malik Barrow?

Best Case Scenario

The reason Tracy Sprinkle wasn't listed in the depth chart is because he told me he wouldn't be 100% until March or April, which tells me that he won't be doing much in spring camp. While that isn't a "best-case scenario", it is the reality with which the Buckeyes are working. There is certainly a silver lining here, however, as it will allow guys like Jashon Cornell and Malik Barrow more reps throughout camp. As a fifth-year senior, Sprinkle has had plenty of reps, so others can get more out of them than he would have. The best case here would be for those extra opportunities to begin a process of confidence building and overall improvement that continues well into the 2017 season. Also, the continued emergence of the rest of last season's backups will be a very welcome -- and expected -- sight.

Worst Case Scenario

The worst-case scenario here would be the Buckeyes not getting the production from the back end of their depth chart this spring. Larry Johnson wants to rotate in as many players during a game as he can, and if he's limited in his ability to do that, then that's an area where Ohio State won't be as good as they'd like to be. Also, some (redshirt) sophomore slumps this spring would be a real downer for a group with such promise.

One Good Spring Prediction

The redshirt sophomores continue to show the disruptive nature that they revealed a year ago.

One Bad Spring Prediction

Tired of going unnoticed, nose tackle Michael Hill will tweet about not coming to Ohio State to play school.

One Okay Spring Prediction

Larry Johnson will leave the spring trying to figure out how to get a couple of defensive tackles involved with the Rushmen package.

Something to Watch For

I will be watching to see how the guys who didn't really get to play a season ago react to the opportunities they have in the spring. Jashon Cornell was disruptive as hell a year ago, but his season was essentially lost due to injury. He was healthy at the end of the year and likely throughout the offseason. How good is he now and how much trouble will he give this Ohio State offensive line? The same goes for Joshua Alabi. Then there is also Malik Barrow, who was at Ohio State for spring a year ago but unable to do any type of practicing. Will he do what the redshirt freshmen did a year ago? The expectations are that he will, so keep an eye on that.

Reason for Optimism

Ohio State returns everyone.

Reason for Pessimism

I'm struggling to come up with one. This was a very young group last season that was put into some difficult situations, but they held up pretty well. If there is a reason for pessimism, I guess it would be that we don't really have a legacy of performance to project, other than what we saw last year. They don't have much history as a unit because last year was essentially the first significant playing time for everyone but Michael Hill.

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