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To Do List: Buckeye Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson
By Tony Gerdeman

When it comes to To-Do Lists, Larry Johnson's is probably the envy of most coaches around the nation. As Ohio State's defensive line coach, Johnson's fortunes are pert near overflowing.

After all, this is a guy who returns every starter from last season and every backup, and will now add in more of the nation's top defensive linemen from the class of 2017. It's a rough life, but somebody has to live it.

So what might Johnson's envy-of-the-nation to-do list look like? We've got some ideas.

1. Find the math that allows even more defensive ends into the rotation.

Ohio State successfully rotated defensive ends Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, and Nick Bosa a season ago, and did it well enough that nobody departed out of frustration with their snaps in 2016 or fear that they would decline in 2017. That's the good news. The bad news is that there are going to be at least three more defensive ends this season who are going to want to play. Sophomores Rashod Berry and Jonathon Cooper played sparingly last season, but both are expected to be much closer to contributing this season than they were last year. They will both obviously need to show it this spring, which they should. When that happens, Larry Johnson is going to have to go back to the drawing board. Who knows, he might also need to find room for junior Darius Slade this season, as well as incoming freshman Chase Young. He's probably going to need a calculator.

2. Get Tracy Sprinkle squared away.

Back at the Fiesta Bowl, Tracy Sprinkle told me he would be 100% recovered from his season-ending knee injury around March or April, which will likely mean a limited spring. They aren't going to want to push him, but they aren't going to let him take it easy, either. This has been a very formulated plan of recovery since he went down in the season opener and that continues throughout the spring. Larry Johnson may not get to work with him much this spring, but the contact they do have together will be focused on having him ready for fall camp, which is where this process will conclude. Remember, Sprinkle was a starting defensive tackle a year ago before his injury, and even though the Buckeyes are deep at tackle, you will always welcome back a returning starter. Johnson will need to get Sprinkle back to where he was last season, and then improve on that because the competition for playing time is a lot more contested than it was a year ago in August.

3. Find the math that allows even more defensive tackles into the rotation.

While Larry Johnson is crunching the numbers on his Texas Instruments graphing calculator for the defensive ends, he will also want to punch in the defensive tackle data because things aren't any easier on the interior. Even with the loss of Tracy Sprinkle, the Buckeyes rotated Dre'Mont Jones, Michael Hill, Davon Hamilton, and Robert Landers at the two defensive tackle spots last season. To make matters even more congested, none of those four played much on passing downs as OSU instead relied on the Rushmen Package of four defensive ends. That kind of substitution package makes things even tighter, as will the coming availability of redshirt freshman Malik Barrow, as well as redshirt sophomores Joshua Alabi and Jashon Cornell. Add in a pair of true freshmen defensive tackles this summer and the Buckeyes are looking at a room with double-digit defensive tackles. Obviously, the number that plays will be much lower. Johnson's work this spring will go a long way towards figuring out what that number is actually going to be.

4. Figure out who can play nose and who can't.

Even though there is some interchangeability on the interior, the Buckeyes mostly went with starter Michael Hill and his backup Rob Landers at nose tackle last season. If you've got 10 defensive tackles wanting to play, eight of them aren't going to be at the three tech. Playing the nose isn't for everybody, but they have to build a depth chart. Adolphus Washington tried it in 2014, but he was happy to get back to his three tech position in 2015. The numbers will need to be evened out, so Larry Johnson is going to have to figure out who can handle the nose and who can't. Even if they don't plan on playing three nose tackles this coming season, it's a way to get players more reps this spring. And who knows, maybe somebody shines through like Landers did a year ago.

5. See if there will be a need for the freshmen this season.

So much of this to-do list has been about finding playing time for the players already on the roster, which may leave little hope for the three defensive linemen that Ohio State signed in the 2017 class. Defensive end Chase Young was a 5-star prospect who will enroll this summer and be placed in a position room with three other former 5-star prospects (Nick Bosa, Jonathon Cooper, and Sam Hubbard), none of whom are the Big Ten's Defensive Linemen of the Year (Tyquan Lewis), or one of the elder Rushmen (Jalyn Holmes). The situation at defensive tackle is even more congested because of the numbers and the Rushmen taking reps from them. How far up the depth chart does a Haskell Garrett or Jerron Cage have to move in order to play this season? If they can't get into the two-deep, then is there any point in burning a redshirt for minimal reps? This is a question that will begin to be answered this spring when Larry Johnson sees how the current players perform, but it won't be fully answered until fall camp when he finally gets a look at exactly what the freshmen can do.

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