Next Man Up: How Buckeyes can fill hole Tommy Togiai left on defensive line

Spencer Holbrook05/06/21
Taron Vincent by Birm-Lettermen Row
Taron Vincent and Antwuan Jackson will both be aiming to start on the defensive line. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State had an incredible season last year on its way to the national title game, where it beat Clemson in the semifinal and fell short against Alabama. Many of the key players from that team moved onto the NFL. Who could step in to make plays similar to what the former Buckeyes made last season? Lettermen Row is breaking down key plays and who could make them. Next up: How the Buckeyes can replace the strength and playmaking of Tommy Togiai in the middle of the defensive line.

COLUMBUS — Haskell Garrett can’t do it all alone on the interior for Ohio State.

The All-American three-technique had a breakout season last year. And he did it while Tommy Togiai was pushing offensive linemen around beside him. Togiai’s combination of speed, size and strength helped Garrett become one of the best defensive linemen in the country — and Garrett helped Togiai become an NFL draft selection.

With Togiai now a member of the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State is searching for its next nose tackle. Whoever it will be, they won’t be as strong as Togiai. But they don’t have to be. That position can be filled by different players with different traits each year.

Whoever it is, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson is confident he’ll have somebody ready to dominate alongside Garrett this fall. And the replacement for Togiai won’t be pigeon-holed as a Togiai-style player for Ohio State. There are plenty of options and body-types that can work at that spot for the Buckeyes.

Tommy Togiai-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive tackle Tommy Togiai will be tough to replace. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“The nose position is a different position,” Johnson said during spring camp. “You have to be a powerful guy, very quick. That’s why we loved [Robert Landers], because he was so quick on the inside. In Tommy’s case, he was so powerful inside you could hardly move him. Antwuan [Jackson] is a quicker guy. He’ll give us more movement on the inside as we go forward. But that’s what we’re looking for. That guy has to be a powerful guy. He has to be smart. He’s got to understand protections.

“That’s the kind of guy we’re looking for at nose. We like a bigger guy, but I’ll take quickness over big to make sure we can make a difference at the line of scrimmage. We want to knock the line of scrimmage back, that’s what we ask our nose tackle to do. Create a new line of scrimmage and make the ball bounce. I’m really happy with our guys on the inside and how hard they’re working to make a difference.”

Replacing Togiai won’t be easy, but the Buckeyes have plenty of options. Lettermen Row is examining all of those Ohio State options as the Buckeyes hope fill the void left by Togiai at defensive tackle.

Taron Vincent-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive tackle Taron Vincent is pushing for a key role. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Key Ohio State options

Taron Vincent: As the Buckeyes look to replace Togiai up front, Taron Vincent seems to have the inside track to become the next starter — and maybe the next star. Vincent was pencilled in to have a breakout 2019 in his second season at Ohio State, but he missed the entire year with a shoulder injury. It seemed to linger and slowed down his progress, hampering his outlook last season. Now fully healthy, Vincent was among the most improved players on the roster in winter and spring activity. The former five-star prospect is due for a breakout.

Antwuan Jackson: Ohio State has been hoping Antwuan Jackson would reach his full potential during his career. He has one last chance to do so this fall. After signing with Auburn out of high school, going to a junior college and arriving at Ohio State later in his career, Jackson was behind on his development with Larry Johnson. Now, he is battling for the starting nose-tackle role — and he seems to be tapping into the top-100 prospect potential the Buckeyes expected from him earlier in his career.

Noah Potter-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive lineman Noah Potter is still getting stronger. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Noah Potter: As Ohio State made its way through spring practice, Noah Potter was among the players who turned heads. Potter is making the transition from defensive end to the inside, and he looks much bigger than before. After adding weight, he is beginning to make his climb into the conversation for a role. He may be better-suited to be a substitute for Haskell Garrett rather than a nose-tackle, but he could have a role.

Jerron Cage: A fifth-year senior, Jerron Cage spent most of his Ohio State career buried in the depth chart. That changed last season, when he saw time on the field in some of the Buckeyes biggest games. Now he enters his final year at Ohio State with a chance to become a full-time contributor. But does he have what it takes to become a star in the trenches?

Other Buckeyes options

Ty Hamilton: Hamilton flashed during spring, drawing praise from coaches and players. He may not be ready for an expanded starting role to the likes of which Togiai had last season, but he’s on the way to bigger and better opportunities for the Buckeyes, maybe even this season in a rotational role.

Jaden McKenzie: After redshirting during his freshman year, which he described as ‘a really good thing,’ McKenzie has battled injuries during his two years at Ohio State. He has an uphill battle to having a significant role this season.

Darrion Henry-Young-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Darrion Henry-Young is still developing for Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Jacolbe Cowan, Darrion Henry-Young: When Darrion Henry-Young and Jacolbe Cowan arrived at Ohio State, they were both raw and needed a year to develop. Henry-Young has had that, but Cowan has been injured for most of his time with the Buckeyes. Both players can contribute for the Buckeyes, but those chances may come farther down the road in their careers — and Henry-Young is still looking like a potential option more on the edge.

Tyleik Williams: A true freshman who enrolled early, Tyleik Williams has tremendous upside, but with the talent in front of him, it’s hard to see the 330-pounder become the go-to interior defensive lineman alongside Haskell Garrett.

The pick: Taron Vincent

Vincent has been hampered and held back by injuries during his three-year Ohio State career. But he finally appears to be at full-strength, and he can finally unleash the skillset that made him the best defensive tackle in the class of 2018. Of course, Antwuan Jackson has the potential to become a key factor alongside Vincent, and the position could be a defensive-tackle-by-committee approach if Larry Johnson has enough faith in both as stars.

But the bet is on Vincent’s upside as a former five-star prospect and his recent approach to the offseason, which earned him ‘Gold champion’ status inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. He has a chance to finally ascend to the level Ohio State recruited him to reach.