Ohio State Football position previews 2024: Defensive Line

The Ohio State football team has key players return for 2024, but depth remains a concern.

J.T. Tuimoloau
J.T. Tuimoloau / Ben Jackson/GettyImages

Before we get too deep into the primary focus of this article, I feel obligated to offer my quick two cents on the recent departure of Tony Alford as Ohio State's running backs coach to That Team Up North. Am I shocked? Yes, by both the timing and the destination, as Alford had been an Ohio State assistant since the 2015 season.

Considering that Ohio State has had two spring practices, and Ohio State has a loaded position group room, I will simply reiterate that Alford's decision to go coach for Michigan is one that will be puzzling me for some time to come.

While I understand how Ohio State fans are eager to see Ohio State head coach Ryan Day bring back a familiar Ohio State name, one thing I would encourage is patience with the process. Social media and online message boards are teeming with speculation about who Day should hire, or who Ohio State will be interviewing.

Considering that the position group does have a tremendous amount of talent and that incoming Ohio State offensive coordinator Chip Kelly has a long-standing reputation for strong running games, I have every confidence that the next running backs coach will be someone who will be able to get the most out of that group in 2024 and beyond.

This is the fifth in a series of articles that I will be submitting as position group rankings of the 2024 Ohio State Buckeyes, from least concerning to most, based on my perceptions. These articles will conclude the week of the 2024 Ohio State Spring Game, scheduled for 1 pm ET on April 13th. As always, I encourage you to let me know what you think and let me know if you believe I have missed anything key in my analysis.

9th - Wide Receivers

8th - Defensive Backs

7th - Running Backs

6th - Special Teams

5th - Defensive Line

Players Lost - DE Omari Abor (via the transfer portal to SMU), DT Michael Hall, Jr. (declared for the 2024 NFL Draft), DT Jaden McKenzie (via the transfer portal to East Carolina)

Players Returning - DE Caden Curry, DT Ty Hamilton, DE Kenyatta Jackson, DT Hero Kanu, DT Tywone Malone, DT Kayden McDonald, DE Mitchell Melton, DE Joshua Mickens, DT Jason Moore, DE Jack Sawyer, DT Will Smith, Jr., DE J.T. Tuimoloau, DT Tyleik Williams

Freshmen Participating In 2024 Spring Practices: DE Eddrick Houston, DT Eric Mensah

Freshman Arriving In Summer 2024: DT Dominic Kirks

Why This Ranking?

At first glance, one could say that there is an abundance of depth and talent at the defensive line. The reality is that most of the talent is due to the return of players such as Ty Hamilton, Jack Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Tyleik Williams, the projected starters. If those players had decided to enter the 2024 NFL Draft, Ohio State's defensive line would have been woefully thin at both the depth and talent areas, as well as overall playing experience.

What Needs To Happen This Spring?

Quite simply, Ohio State needs to establish its second-team units at both defensive tackle and defensive end. The aforementioned Hamilton, Sawyer, Tuimoloau, and Williams are the projected starters, but Ohio State Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson needs to determine who the next men up in the rotation, as there is no way that the Buckeyes can continually keep their starters in, with little to no rest.

This is a big Spring for players such as Caden Curry, Hero Kanu, Kenyatta Jackson, and Kayden McDonald to make their move on the depth chart. Of the incoming freshmen who are participating in spring practice, it will bear watching to see how Eddrick Houston does, as Houston was highly coveted by many programs during the recruiting process.

Will Ohio State Fans Ever See "The Jack"?

"The Jack" is Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Jim Knowles' terminology for a stand-up perimeter pass rusher, like a 3-4 outside linebacker. Considering that this is year three of Knowles being in charge of the defense, and Ohio State fans have not really seen it unleashed, the answer is more than likely a 'No'. Players such as Mitchell Melton have been speculated as being a "Jack", as well as linebacker C.J. Hicks.

Jim Knowles did say that he is considering using Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau as outside linebackers, with a 3 man interior defensive front. When interviewed on March 7th, Knowles said, "My thoughts are, with Jack and JT, that at some point, I want to train them as outside linebackers...You always want to try to do what's best for the personnel...So my thinking is, ‘OK, maybe we're not built for a Jack type of package.’ It's not what I like, it's what works for our players. Maybe we're not built for the Jack, but maybe we could be built more for a double eagle kind of setup. It's just something to think about.”

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No matter what Ohio State fans may see on the field this coming season, it will bear watching how the defensive line performs, especially with so many players in their last year of eligibility. A strong defensive line will be crucial to Ohio State's lofty postseason goals for 2024.