Ohio State football: Can Jack Sawyer crack the rotation at defensive end?

The Ohio State football team is known for its strong defensive line. Can a true freshman get significant snaps?

Although it was released over 35 years before he was born, the first line of The Who’s 1966 song Happy Jack could have been written about Buckeye true freshman defensive end Jack Sawyer.

Happy Jack wasn’t old, but he was a man

When you’re 6’5”, 240 pounds, the top recruit in the state of Ohio, and number four nationally, you’re probably a man. Well, at least in football terms.

Sawyer, one of the crown jewels of Ryan Day’s most recent recruiting class, opted out of his senior season at Pickerington High School to concentrate on getting ready to enroll early at Ohio State. Skipping that season doesn’t seem to have slowed his development.

It took him only about half of spring practice to become the first defensive player from his recruiting class to have his black stripe removed. Media members, who were allowed to attend parts of recent practices, say Sawyer has been working with various special teams. Any good Buckeye fan knows the pathway to playing time for young players is to prove themselves on those units.

I don’t doubt Sawyer will see the field very early in some capacity on special teams, but can he crack the rotation at a crowded defensive end position? Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison, Tyler Friday, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste are all back, and all have extensive playing time over the last three seasons.

In addition, Noah Potter, Darrien Henry-Young, and possibly Cormontae Hamilton are viable candidates to be a part of a defensive end rotation that could go as many as six players deep. That rotation has varied between five and six over the last few seasons. The defensive staff has shown a willingness to go with a deep rotation if players show they are deserving of playing time.

When I first began considering how much of an impact Sawyer can make on the defensive end depth chart, I was concerned about his size. He’s listed at only 240 pounds. Friday, Harrison, and Smith are all at least 260 pounds; Jean-Baptiste is 253. Will Sawyer be able to handle playing against tackles that are routinely over 300 pounds?

Once spring practice ends, Sawyer will have a little over three months to work with the Buckeyes’ strength and conditioning guru Mickey Marotti. We all know how good Coach Mick is at helping a player to get bigger while increasing their speed and quickness as well.

If Marotti can get him up around that 250-pound mark, I think you’ll see Sawyer have his chance in the rotation at defensive end. You probably won’t see him much in the first two games, because the Ohio State football team opens with a night game on the road at Minnesota before PAC-12 defending champion Oregon quacks their way to Columbus nine days later.

I expect the rotation to be kept tight for those first two games. Games three and four are against Tulsa and Akron. That’s where I think you’ll see a lot more of Sawyer.

A great deal is expected of five-star recruits because they have such a high ceiling. Sawyer’s may be higher than most. There is another line of The Who’s song that could apply to him at some point.

But they couldn’t stop Jack

The Bosa Brothers and Chase Young were unstoppable defensive ends. Ohio State football fans are hoping Sawyer becomes the next.