Tyleik Williams Ohio State Buckeyes Defensive Tackle Jim Knowles

Spring Preview: Buckeyes Surround Returning Starters With Youth At Defensive Tackle


The Buckeyes will have eight scholarship defensive tackles on the roster this spring, including returning starters Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton. Hamilton started seven games at nose tackle last year while splitting duties with the NFL-bound Mike Hall. Senior Tywone Malone returns to compete for a spot in the rotation. Redshirt sophomore Hero Kanu played in 12 games last year.

Sophomore Kayden McDonald showed promise as a true freshman a year ago. Redshirt freshmen Jason Moore and Will Smith, Jr. are joined by true freshman Eric Mensah as OSU’s three freshman-eligible tackles this season. There is the possibility that incoming freshman Dominic Kirks could end up at defensive tackle as well when he enrolls this summer.

Scholarship Roster

Ty Hamilton, rSr, 6-3 295
Twelve-game starter over past two years who keeps getting better.
Tyleik Williams, Sr, 6-2 290
Turned down the NFL after emerging as one of B1G’s best linemen.
Tywone Malone, Sr, 6-4 303
Played sparingly last year after transferring in from Ole Miss last June.
Hero Kanu, rSoph, 6-5 305
Still young in the game of football but played in key moments last year.
Kayden McDonald, Soph, 6-2 319
First spring as a Buckeye after playing in seven games as a true freshman.
Jason Moore, rFr, 6-6 295
Only played in one game last year after enrolling in June.
Will Smith, Jr., rFr, 6-3 294
Missed last season with an injury.
Eric Mensah, Fr, 6-3 290
Former Virginia Tech commit will get his first look this spring.

For Starters

Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton have a combined 25 starts in their respective careers. They have played next to each other for three years now and should be one of the many strong points of this Ohio State defense. Williams was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection last year (53 tkls, 10.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks) after receiving Honorable Mention nods his first two years as a Buckeye. Hamilton was an Honorable Mention honoree last year (38 tkles, 4.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks).

New Additions

True freshman Eric Mensah is the only new addition this spring, and may be the only new addition this season. Mensah was a late add to Ohio State’s target list. They offered him in September of last year, which he quickly accepted, decommitting from in-state Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes also signed in-state prospect Dominic Kirks, who is a big defensive end that could grow into a tackle. He won’t be on campus until June, however. At this point, Ohio State is not expected to look for defensive tackles in the transfer portal during the spring transfer window.

Spring Depth Chart

Three Tech

91Tyleik Williams
93Hero Kanu
95Tywone Malone
94Jason Moore

Nose Tackle

58Ty Hamilton
56Kayden McDonald
53Will Smith, Jr.
NAEric Mensah

In most situations, Will Smith and Eric Mensah would be listed as three-techs, but the Buckeyes need more than two nose tackles on the team. Hero Kanu could factor in after playing three-tech last year. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson will cross train his players, so outside of the starters there is no hard-and-fast rule this early on who is playing which position. Especially with so much unproven talent in the room.

What’s The Latest?

Ty Hamilton and Tyleik Williams are two of four Ohio State defensive linemen who put the NFL on hold for one more year in order to reach some team goals (and, yes, improve their respective draft stock). A win over Michigan, a Big Ten title, and a national championship are all part of the plan. If football is won in the trenches, it helps to have a motivated group of defensive tackles standing strong at the point of attack. The Buckeyes have that.


Ty Hamilton never got the attention that Mike Hall (24 tkls, 2.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) got last year, but he was a much more productive player in terms of tackles. Just like his brother DaVon did, expect Ty Hamilton to have his best year as a fifth-year senior. Tyleik Williams should be one of the most disruptive tackles in the Big Ten this year. Together, they could be one of the best tackle duos in the nation this year. They may not get the attention of defensive ends JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, but don’t expect that to bother them. Also don’t expect them to be overly worked this spring. The coaches know what they have in those two.

One Question Needing An Answer

Can the Buckeyes actually go four-deep this year in their rotation? Tyleik Williams, Mike Hall, and Ty Hamilton all had over 340 snaps last year on defense. Nobody else had more than 90 (Hero Kanu). With Hall gone, the Buckeyes need at least a couple of guys to step up into the regular rotation. Only going three deep in a defensive tackle rotation wore the Buckeyes down last year in a 13-game season. How will that go this year when they’re trying to play 16 or 17 games? Kanu, Kayden McDonald, Will Smith, Jr., Jason Moore, and Tywone Malone are going to get the bulk of the snaps this spring because Larry Johnson needs an answer.

Breakout Candidate

Hero Kanu and Kayden McDonald were seen more and more as the year went on last season. The most either guy played was 12 snaps in a game, so they weren’t regulars, but there was some flashing. Even though they aren’t the oldest options to move into the rotation, they may have the most potential. That potential could look to break out this spring. They are going to get plenty of work, which will give them issues to correct and learn from. This spring should be a great opportunity for growth for both Kanu and McDonald, and it will pay off for everyone this season.

Go to discussion...