The Buckeyes return two of their top three defensive ends from last year in JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer. Together, they should be the best duo in the Big Ten. Sophomore Caden Curry will be the third man in the rotation, and he flashed several times in limited opportunities last year as a true freshman. Redshirt freshmen Kenyatta Jackson and Omari Abor are still waiting to make noise, which could happen this spring. Fourth-year junior Mitchell Melton is still not full speed while dealing with an ACL tear in the spring game last year.
JT Tuimoloau, Jr, 6-4 270
Has All-American potential and showed it several times last year.
Jack Sawyer, Jr, 6-4 267
Quietly led the Buckeyes with 4.5 sacks last year.
Caden Curry, Soph, 6-3 250
The prototype motor; will play a lot this season.
Kenyatta Jackson, rFr, 6-5 239
Talented pass rusher looking to forge the rest of his game.
Omari Abor, rFr, 6-3 249
Compact pass rusher ready for productive spring.
Mitchell Melton, rJr, 6-3 245
Will not be a full participant; Could ultimately be the team’s No. 1 Jack.
JT Tuimoloau started every game last year for the Buckeyes, and Jack Sawyer was generally the first defensive end in off the bench. Together they will be the Buckeyes’ starters in 2023, so they need to set the tone for their position group this spring. Tuimoloau and Sawyer both came in as 5-star prospects, and so far in their two seasons at Ohio State, they’ve produced a combined 14.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss. For a couple of comparisons, Nick Bosa produced 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss by himself in his first two years. Chase Young finished his first two years with 13 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss. Joey Bosa’s numbers blow both of these out of the water so there’s no point in adding them here. Sawyer and Tuimoloau have all the potential needed to produce, and they have to varying degrees, but what needs to happen to get the numbers back up to where they used to be? In his final year as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator in 2021, Jim Knowles’ defensive ends combined for 26.5 sacks. Last year in his first year at Ohio State, the Buckeye defensive ends combined for 16. Over the last decade, only three defensive ends not named Bosa or Young have managed to post five sacks in a season at Ohio State. And it hasn’t happened since 2017. The sack isn’t the only measure of a defensive end, but it’s the most notable one we’ve got.
The Buckeyes lost three defensive ends from last year and may only be adding one defensive end to the mix when freshman Joshua Mickens gets to campus in the summer. There is a possibility that summer enrollee Jason Moore could also stick at defensive end, but he is expected to eventually grow into a defensive tackle. This spring won’t be about the new additions to the team, but rather finding new additions to the rotation. Redshirt freshman Kenyatta Jackson and Omari Abor played in a combined four games last year, so they’re still looking to establish themselves. This spring will help with that.
Spring Depth Chart
Strongside Defensive End
|JT Tuimoloau, Jr
|Caden Curry, Soph
|Omari Abor, rFr
Weakside Defensive End
|Jack Sawyer, Jr
|Caden Curry, Soph
|Kenyatta Jackson, rFr
|Jack Sawyer, Jr
|Mitchell Melton, rJr (Inj.)
What’s the Latest?
This is going to be a pretty thin group of defensive ends in the spring. Just five scholarship players going through all of defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s drills. Could it lead to a position move for somebody like redshirt freshman linebacker Gabe Powers? That was something that was talked about during his recruitment, but he may not be quite big enough just yet.
Expect the defensive ends to have some success as pass rushers this spring. In part because they’re talented, but also because they’ll be going against an offensive line searching for two new starters at tackle. The advantage should be with the defensive line all spring long, which will ultimately help the offensive line, even if it doesn’t look like it at first. This is expected to be a strong spring for JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, and Caden Curry, so the real question is what the Buckeyes will see from redshirt freshmen Kenyatta Jackson and Omari Abor now that they’re getting more reps in practice.
One Question Needing An Answer
How much will the Jack be used this spring and who else will be manning the position besides Jack Sawyer? This isn’t the deepest defensive end room, and Jim Knowles has already said he didn’t see any Jacks coming from linebacker. Could spring be a time to allow Sawyer to become more comfortable in the hybrid role while also allowing the younger defensive ends to get more reps on the outside? Or will the Jack wait until fall camp when Mitchell Melton is ready to go?
Don’t be surprised if Caden Curry leaves spring as one of the popular topics of camp. He is always bringing the kind of effort that coaches love. That effort should end up in plays being made this spring. In looking for other breakout candidates, pay attention to the times when coaches and players mention other players without being prompted to do so. Those comments provide a level of insight that regular answers don’t always match. Curry would likely be the recipient of many of those comments, but he’s probably going to be asked about way too much to allow for many unprompted responses.