Jack is back, but the Jack is out. At least for the spring.
Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said a couple of weeks ago that his hybrid stand-up defensive end position known as the Jack was going to be on the shelf this spring so that the Buckeye defensive ends — and in particular junior Jack Sawyer — could get back to the fundamentals of playing defensive end.
(It also didn’t hurt that perhaps OSU’s top choice for that position this year is redshirt junior Mitchell Melton, who is not yet cleared for full team activities following an ACL tear in the 2022 spring game.)
A year ago Jack Sawyer led the Buckeyes with 4.5 sacks, but the Jack saw a year go by that wasn’t as productive as Knowles and the OSU defensive staff had hoped. Not only that, there was the consideration that the extra workload of playing two positions had taken away from what Sawyer does best — getting after the quarterback.
But now Sawyer is back where he’s comfortable, and back where defensive line coach Larry Johnson wants him.
“Let him put his hand in the ground and let him go rush,” is what Johnson said to reporters on Thursday. “That’s why we brought him here to do that. I thought that it was a good experiment, but now let’s go play football. I think that’s the best position for him. He feels happy where he’s at. And that’s important too.”
Sawyer is definitely happy to be back at defensive end full time, but he was more than willing to continue doing whatever the team needs him to do. There are no regrets on his part despite last year not exactly being the year he had envisioned.
“I’d probably be lying if I told you it was what I expected,” he said of the 2022 season. “I think a lot of us would say that, really, when you look at the season. When you look at how many plays we missed, and how many opportunities we had to get a sack or to get a tackle for loss. So I think collectively we’re looking forward to finishing those plays off this year and getting that the stat number up as a whole way through the roof.”
Playing two positions last season, sometimes Sawyer would have his hand in the dirt as a pass rusher, and other times he’d be standing up either on the edge or between a couple of fellow defensive linemen. He was never truly focused on one position. The preparation for the dual roles was also difficult because of what was required of him from game to game.
“The Jack just has a lot of responsibilities in it,” he said. “And depending on the formation, and whatever the call is, and whatever they want me to do, it’s just a little different. The game plan and stuff for that was always just a little different, and I’d always have to learn other stuff too. But I thought the coaches did a great job trying to help me with that.”
Sawyer himself doesn’t think it’s a big deal that he’s back at defensive end full time. It was simply a conversation that he had with the coaches and they all felt the same way about what they wanted from him this year. The spring is just the start, however.
“I think it’s good to get back and work on the fundamentals of being a defensive end in the spring,” Sawyer said. “And we’ll see when the fall rolls around what all that entails. So I’m excited for it.”
And he’s not the only one.
“I think his best trait is to put his hand in the ground and go rush as a defensive end,” Johnson said. “He’s a 6-5, 265-pound guy coming off the edge, so we’ve just got to go back and refine his technique and continue to make him better.”