Buckeyes defensive lineman Will Smith Jr. loses black stripe

Spencer-Holbrookby:Spencer Holbrook04/05/24


COLUMBUS — Ohio State defensive lineman Will Smith Jr. has slowly been rising up the depth chart this spring. He’s now taking a big step forward in his progression.

Smith Jr. was injured for most of his freshman year, forcing him into the background and slowing down his Year One development. But this spring, he’s been running with the second-team defensive line, a big sign of progress.

The latest step is here, too. He lost his black stripe after Buckeyes practice on Friday as his climb up the pecking order continues.

He is the second Buckeyes player to shed his black stripe Friday, joining transfer tight end Will Kacmarek.

“He’s finally healthy, and he’s actually stacking practices together,” head coach Ryan Day said of Smith Jr. after Student Appreciation Day. “So I think that’s probably the biggest thing. I don’t think he’s been able to really show what he can do because he’s had some injuries here and there. And he put on a lot of strength and a lot of weight early on and then had a few issues.

“But now he’s healthy. So at least we’re seeing him out there learning and growing and making some plays.”

Smith turned heads at the very beginning of spring ball when he was with the second-team defense. He worked to that after an impressive couple of months of winter workouts — and he’s carried that to the field.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson has been impressed.

“For the inside guys, I feel pretty good,” Johnson said. “Jason Moore’s starting to make a push. You got Hero [Kanu] inside, and then you got K-Mac, Kayden McDonald’s doing a really good job on the inside. So it gives us some depth there.

“Now can Will Smith give us a third piece of that puzzle? And that’s what we’re looking for. So I think right now it’s really just pushing those young guys more than I’m pushing older guys. And we kind of shut [the older guys] down a little bit and made these young guys get some work against the ones and twos.”

Will Smith Jr. is working to be that piece of the puzzle. He took a big step in that regard on Friday, shedding his black stripe ahead of a pivotal closing week of spring football.

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