Rushmen package could be scarier than ever for Ohio State

Austin Ward3 months
Aritcle written by:Austin WardAustin Ward

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Tyreke Smith 2 by Birm-Lettermen Row
Tyreke Smith was a dominant force for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and the Rushmen package as part of Position Week? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

 

 

Larry Johnson had to show off his creativity again last season at Ohio State, but it wasn’t the fun kind.

This was forced flexibility during the COVID-ravaged year when nothing was guaranteed on the depth chart from week to week — culminating with the loss of two starters ahead of the national title game. It wasn’t a chance for Johnson to cook up the most explosive pass rush he could dream of, mixing around his four- and five-star ingredients until he found something unstable for critical downs.

And, of course, it also didn’t help that Chase Young wasn’t around as the ultimate chess piece.

But the Rushmen package should return in full force this season for Johnson. With enough athleticism, versatility and power on hand to actually fuel multiple versions of the vaunted pass-situation sub package, the Buckeyes will once again get to see what the mad-genius can come up with when it’s a luxury instead of a necessity.

So, how will the pieces fit best? Only Johnson really knows that at this point, but the assumption here is that Zach Harrison will step into the Predator-type role the Buckeyes unleashed two years ago by moving Young all over the field. Harrison has the size to kick inside at times, he’s obviously got the tools to line up on the edge and he’s also got the mobility to float around as a hybrid, stand-up threat that Ohio State occasionally deployed with Young.

Haskell Garrett-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Haskell Garrett is ready to dominate on the defensive line for Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Thanks to Ohio State’s depth at end, Johnson has created nightmare mismatches for offensive guards by moving his edge rushers to the interior in clear passing situations. Harrison can do that, and the Buckeyes also planted the seeds for Noah Potter to help there by working him at three-technique during spring camp. If Johnson elects to go with four true pass-rushers in that personnel group, Harrison and Potter could potentially play on the interior with Tyreke Smith claiming one end spot while Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Tyler Friday or five-star freshman Jack Sawyer compete on the other side.

(Yes, Ohio State remains in contention for J.T. Tuimoloau and can probably be considered the favorite heading into what could be a critical weekend if he’s planning to enroll for any summer classes. He also appears to have the kind of rare talent needed to jump into that mix right away. But nothing is guaranteed, and the transition often takes time even for the top prospects — especially without the benefit of spring camp.)

There’s really no wrong answer with those guys on the edge, which means the more interesting debate would be how Johnson wants to handle the inside options. Haskell Garrett has certainly proven he can be an effective threat collapsing the pocket and getting to the quarterback — and when he doesn’t, few players in the country are better at getting hands up and batting down passes. Ohio State may not want to take him off the field even on third-and-long downs, though that’s another reminder that even the Rushmen package could have sub variations this season depending on what Johnson needs at any given moment.

That will be the exciting, enjoyable part for the Buckeyes as things get back to normal. But it sure won’t be fun for anybody trying to figure out how to block them.

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