Spring Recap: Young Buckeye Defensive Tackles Stepped Up

With spring football now in the rearview mirror for Ohio State, it’s time to look back at what happened with each position group and where things currently stand for the Buckeyes. We continue our series with the defensive tackles.

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Quick Position Overview

The Buckeyes returned two starters at defensive tackle from last season. Tyleik Williams started at three-tech and had an NFL decision to make. He chose to come back for his senior season. Ty Hamilton played nose tackle and started half of the games last year, sharing those duties with Mike Hall, who left for the NFL. Behind them are a handful of young and inexperienced defensive tackles who needed this spring to step up and show that they could be utilized in a rotation this season. Among them are redshirt freshman Jason Moore, redshirt freshman Will Smith Jr., redshirt sophomore Hero Kanu, and sophomore Kayden MacDonald. Fourth-year junior Tywone Malone was also looking to hold off those young players in his battle for playing time.

Expectations Going In

The expectations going in were that Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton would take it pretty easy this spring, allowing all the young players to get the necessary reps to help them develop more as individual players. This would allow them to continue to develop, show that they belonged, make some plays along the way, and become a viable part of the defense as long as the development continued.

Reality Coming Out

The reality coming out of spring is that the Buckeyes may have gotten deeper because of their young depth. Jason Moore had a very solid spring. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson often talked about how effective he had become, how hard he was working, and his overall natural ability. Hero Kanu and Kayden MacDonald are both disruptive, big, and can be anchors on the defensive line down the road.

Any Surprises?

The surprise here may have been Jason Moore, who only played in one game last year as a true freshman. He was a 3-4 defensive end in high school and has continued to grow, now measuring somewhere around 6’6″ and 305 pounds. He still possesses some of that defensive end speed, and he uses all of his length to his advantage. Moore showed some very good pass-rushing ability this spring. The question will be how effective he can be against the run, as that’s a part of his game that will need to continue developing.

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Unanswered Question

The unanswered question here is that even though the young defensive tackles looked good and had a solid spring, we still don’t know how reliable they will be this season. Larry Johnson did not delve very deep into his depth chart last year on the defensive line, and that was because he didn’t have enough players who were ready to play. They can’t afford to have that happen again this year. So, the young guys got a lot of work this spring. They need to be ready. But we won’t know if they are until they prove it. They’ll have some non-conference games from which they can grow, but eventually they are going to be called upon, and they will need to be ready to play in the fourth quarter of games that are still in doubt.

So Now What?

Now, Larry Johnson will go back and review the tape from spring to get an idea of who is capable of playing directly behind Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton. Johnson likes to have players who can play both tackle spots, so is there one guy who can come in at either spot? Is there a situation where Jason Moore can play either position? Or if Ty Hamilton goes down and a guy like Moore steps in, would Tyleik Williams just slide over to nose? Figuring out exactly who can do what is part of the summer program, which involves looking back at the film, going over it with the players, and seeing where they can grow.

One Concern

The primary concern here is the lack of experienced depth behind Tyleik Williams. None of these guys have seen significant playing time. Tywone Malone has played a bit, but not enough to instill the same level of confidence present at nose tackle with Hero Kanu and Kayden MacDonald. And even those two haven’t played much either, but they’ve seen more action than Malone, Jason Moore, Will Smith, and incoming freshman Eric Mensah. Is there someone who can step in for Williams? What happens if he gets injured? There are options, but they remain unproven at this point.

Are We Sure?

Are we sure there won’t be snaps where Hero Kanu and Kayden MacDonald are on the field together? It certainly seems like both of these guys could be the next in line as the number three defensive tackle, wherever that may be. And if either of them can be number three, can they both be on the field together, giving a rest to Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton? They’re both big and could become a pretty fun tandem. Larry Johnson appreciates having versatility and likes to cross-train his tackles, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that those two will play side by side at times this season.


“I mean, he’s 6-5, he’s 295 pounds. He’s the ideal three-tech in our system, right? And it’s just a matter of having confidence and playing. Sometimes it is bigger than you think it is, and it kind of sets you back. Now in the spring, we’re challenging him, and I’m just telling you every day is a good day for Jason Moore.” — Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson on why he has been so high on Jason Moore this spring.

Depth Chart

Three Tech

91 Tyleik Williams, Sr
95 Tywone Malone, rJr OR
94 Jason Moore, rFr
53 Will Smith, rFr
90 Eric Mensah, Fr

Nose Tackle

58 Ty Hamilton, rSr
93 Hero Kanu, rSoph OR
98 Kayden McDonald, Soph

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