COLUMBUS — Larry Johnson says he hasn’t been sleeping well and that the defensive linemen he coaches at Ohio State aren’t sitting around smiling.
They know they need to do a better job at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks after having only four sacks in the Buckeyes’ first three games.
“Everything starts up front. We have to get to the quarterback, we have to affect his throws. No excuses, we have to get to the quarterback,” Johnson said earlier this week.
“I don’t sleep well when we can’t get pressure on the quarterback because that’s what we have to do. If we do that, we’ll change the game immediately. We have to find ways to get to the quarterback,” he said.
“I wouldn’t use the word disappointed because that’s not a good word. I think there’s room for improvement. Those guys aren’t sitting around smiling every day. They know we have some work to do. We’ve got to get it cranked up and get it going.”
One reason for optimism might be that three freshmen defensive linemen appear to be getting rapidly acclimated to the college game.
Johnson says no defensive lineman is ready for college football on day one. But 5-star defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau must have been close.
Tuimoloau didn’t commit to Ohio State until early July. By last week’s 41-20 win over Tulsa he was on the field for 45 plays and Johnson says he could play 50 to 55 plays going forward.
Jack Sawyer, another 5-star recruit, was on the field for 17 plays against Tulsa. Because Sawyer enrolled at Ohio State in January, depth chart forecasters thought he might be ahead of Tuimoloau. But it hasn’t worked out that way.
“J.T. is real physical in his skill set and he’s got some really good technique that he came in with and we’re just trying to enhance that. They’re two different players. J.T. is a real powerful young man and Jack is a finesse player. They’ve both done really well and I’m really happy where they are,” Johnson said.
Tyleik Williams, a 4-star freshman, had played only three plays in OSU’s first two games before getting in for 21 plays, including a big sack, at a time when the Buckeyes led Tulsa by only seven points in the fourth quarter last Saturday.
Williams had conditioning issues when he arrived at Ohio State weighing more than 340 pounds. He has dropped 25 pounds since then.
“He came in really heavy. Now he’s where we want him to be and he’s starting to show what we thought he would be,” Johnson said.
While the freshmen might be part of the answer, they aren’t the only answer.
“I think it takes time. You can’t just throw a guy in and say he’s going to be up to speed right now at rushing the passer in college football,” Johnson said.
“You want to give them a chance to have success early. I’m really careful about not putting young players in a position where they have a mistake in a game that kind of haunts them for a while,” he said.