COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State has more top-notch pass-rushers than it knows what to do with and an unwillingness to keep them on the sideline.
Even if it takes some creative thinking and a new formation, the Buckeyes might just play them all at the same time.
A position group that has liberally substituted thanks to its depth up front during the last couple of seasons and has a terrifying package of four defensive ends in the playbook already is now toying with the idea of putting five of them on the field at the same time. A surplus of talent is one of the best problems defensive line coach Larry Johnson could have, and now it’s just up to him to figure out the pieces for a new rotation and scheme with what could be the nation’s best unit -- and perhaps the busiest as well.
“I can’t give you all my secrets,” Johnson said with a smile. “We haven’t got to it yet. It’s still on the drawing board right now, but we’ve got a plan.
“It’s something we’re not doing right now. We’re just trying to get fundamentally better, but that’s something that if we see fit to do it, we’ll do it. There’s a lot of things we can do with them because those guys are athletic enough to do it. Right now it’s just something on the table.”
If the Buckeyes use the five-man package, that would impact another position group, most likely taking a linebacker off the field. Whether the logistics are still being worked out or just being kept secret, there are already hints as to how the coaching staff plans to handle that formational math.
The versatility of junior Sam Hubbard would in all likelihood be the fulcrum, since the speed and mobility that once made him a defensive back would allow him to stand up on the edge and potentially drop into coverage if needed. He’s already been working on those skills in spring practice, and Jalyn Holmes could potentially fill a similar role as well to round out a group that would also include senior Tyquan Lewis and sophomores Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones.
The Buckeyes weren’t expecting to have this many options available to them this year with Lewis, Holmes and Hubbard all eligible to declare for the NFL draft. All three elected to stick around, giving Ohio State a top-five group of returning linemen that combined to pile up 37.5 tackles for loss last season.
“I think as of right now, it’s the strength of our team on defense,” Urban Meyer said. “They’re fast, they’re really good players. Defensive end, I challenge that we’ll be as good as anybody in America at defensive end.
“It’s kind of fun in spring, you can try all kinds of stuff and see how it works. ... We have five premier [defensive linemen], in my mind, and I would like to see all five on the field at one time. Coaches like to say, ‘How are the checkers?’ Those are five really good checkers right there: Play them all at once.”
Even if the Buckeyes figure out the best way to do it, they aren’t likely to be rolling out a five-man defensive line all that often during the game, particularly considering the amount of playmakers in the pipeline at linebacker and in the secondary.
Ohio State is clearly committed to getting all of its linemen involved. While that cuts down on the number of reps individually, the Buckeyes believe that’s a positive since it keeps them all fresh. Because Lewis only needed to average 45 snaps per game to become the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year last season, it’s hard to argue with the results.
“I think it’s just about getting the best guys out on the field to make plays,” Hubbard said. “That’s what they’re trying to do. If you can rush the passer, they want to get you out on the field. I don’t want to talk too much about it. They’re all putting their minds together, cooking something up and I’m just doing what they tell me to do. I’m liking it.
“It’s going to be fun to watch. ... Guys can rush the passer from all different sides and places, and that’s going to be scary.”
The Buckeyes figure to be frightening enough with four pass-rushers on the field.
Now they’re trying to find a way to add to the nightmare.