After a somewhat tumultuous December that saw three key departures and a de-commitment on the defensive line, the Buckeyes entered 2018 with just three defensive ends on scholarship for the upcoming season.
That was until four-star weak-side defensive end Tyreke Smith committed to the Buckeyes earlier this week. One of five Ohio State commits to feature in the 2018 Under Armour All-America Game this past Thursday, Smith announced his much-needed commitment just moments before the all-star game kicked off, citing defensive line coach Larry Johnson as the primary factor in his choosing.
With the departures of Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, and Jalyn Holmes following the Buckeyes’ Cotton Bowl victory over USC — all members of Ohio State’s famed ‘rushmen’ package — Smith will join Nick Bosa (Jr), Jonathon Cooper (Jr), and Chase Young (So) as the only four defensive ends on scholarship next season.
Hailing from Cleveland Heights High School — the same school that saw former four-star receiver Jaylen Smith join the Buckeyes last year — Smith ranks as the fourth-best defensive end prospect in the country for 2018.
And while the talented pass rusher doesn’t quite stack up to former five-star Buckeye commit Brenton Cox (now signed with the Georgia Bulldogs), Smith will no doubt compete for a substantial role on the defensive line the moment he arrives on campus.
Over the past few seasons, with so much talent on the edge of the Buckeyes’ vaunted defensive line, Ohio State has employed the unorthodox ‘rushmen’ package in obvious passing situations; namely third down and long.
Typically, at least in the base 4-3 defensive set, teams will use a combination of edge rushers and nose tackles on defense; usually two of each. But at Ohio State, with NFL-ready ends like Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa and Jalyn Holmes all capable of a starting role, heavy rotations have become the norm for head coach Urban Meyer.
In 2017, with six different defensive ends seeing the field with regularity throughout the season, Ohio State totaled a frightening 45 quarterback sacks; good for third in the country. Against USC in the Cotton Bowl, seven of the Buckeyes’ game-changing eight sacks came from the ‘rushmen.’
For Smith, provided this hyper-effective trend continues in 2018, this means immediate playing time.
Three of the primary four ‘rushmen’ last season are off to the NFL, leaving just Nick Bosa as the lone returning starter entering 2018. Sophomore standout Chase Young figures to be the other starting edge rusher opposite Bosa to start the season, but when the ‘rushmen’ package comes into play on third down, Smith — one of just four scholarship defensive ends on the Buckeyes’ 2018 roster — will be a part of it.
Smith, who already possesses the elite size and speed to make an immediate impact at the college level, now has to work on the more intricate aspects of being a pass rusher. Smith’s hand and footwork still need development according to Cleveland Heights coach Mac Stephens.
“Right now he can get away with it on the high school level, but in college he will need improvement in that area, said Stephens. “Him being able to play lower will help him be a dominant player at the college level.”
That’s where coach Larry Johnson comes in, famed for his coaching development over the years at both Ohio State and Penn State.
Tyreke Smith, as long as he makes the necessary improvements with the help of coach Johnson, may just be the Buckeyes’ most important commitment of the 2018 class. At least in the short term. Smith will likely be one of only a few true freshman to see meaningful game time next season — both on offense and defense — and without him, Ohio State’s ‘rushmen’ package may have even been eliminated.
Still, don’t be at all surprised to see Urban Meyer target another blue-chip defensive end this recruiting cycle. This past season proved that the Buckeyes can never have too many elite pass rushers.
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