Despite detours, Tyreke Smith still on path to greatness

Spencer Holbrookabout 1 year
Tyreke Smith can be the next dominant pass-rusher at Ohio State. (Sammy Silverman/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — Stardom doesn’t always arrive instantly at Ohio State.

Tyreke Smith is no exception. It takes time for the results to come, even for players like Smith, who is still in line as the next great Ohio State pass rusher and a player who has always had enough talent to dominate early in his career.

Smith has been in the same breath as great Ohio State pass-rushers since he arrived. The common steps the Bosa brothers and Chase Young took to find the next gear in their development was drinking. That’s what Tyreke Smith has to continue to do: Drink the Kool Aid.

“It was a lot of extra work, I’d say,” Young said at the NFL draft combine in February. “Drinking the Kool Aid. Really getting dialed into detail with my technique. After the 2018 season, that spring and summer, I really dialed in and got real detailed and specific on everything that he’s asked me to do. And that fall camp, you could see it was flourishing and flourishing.”

Signs show Smith is doing just that and following the same blueprint of the superstars who came before him at Ohio State.

Smith is in a quite similar position Young was last offseason, looking to elevate his game from good to great. And he has already shown he has bought into what Johnson is preaching. Smith knows how he needs to improve.

Tyreke Smith-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Tyreke Smith has big shoes to fill with the departure of Chase Young. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“These last few games I’ve been playing [after] I broke my hand,” Smith said after the regular season. “I had a little fracture in it, but I think I’m feeling pretty good. I know the health issues have hindered a little part of my game, but I’m not letting that be a blockade on me. I’m going to keep pushing, keep grinding and keep doing what I’ve got to do to make sure my body is right.

“I just want to do what I can to help us win, whatever I can to help Coach [Larry Johnson] and the defensive line. We all work hard, and they’re all giving me praise and credit and they help me even when I’m fighting through injuries. I’m just trying to do my best.”

The first step is staying healthy, something Smith has had a hard time doing since arriving at Ohio State as a blue-chip prospect in the class of 2018. Smith fought through injuries and stayed productive last season, a sure sign that he’s all in. He registered three sacks a season ago, all while battling through smaller injuries that kept piling up.

It’s going to take even more work to find the level Young was at last season, when he was the best defensive player in America.

But talent has never been an issue for Smith, just as it never was for Young. But Smith’s injuries and a loaded depth chart have kept him in limited roles through two seasons. He spent two years learning from dominant stars Nick Bosa and Young, while taking notes from others like Jonathon Cooper.

Since Smith came to Ohio State, he has been heralded as being next in line in the Ohio State defensive line factory to the NFL. But he doesn’t want to be like the others.

He wants to be Tyreke Smith.

“I never really compare myself to anybody,” Smith said. “I always just set the bar high for myself. It’s more of a personal goal thing. I want to be the best [defensive] end to come out of here. That’s my personal goal. I know I’m with the best coach, my teammates around me are going to get me better. I got people like Nick [Bosa], Chase [Young] and everybody to push me to set the bar.”

“It’s more of a personal thing for me. With the coach I have, I know the sky is the limit for me.”

He just needs to keep drinking the Kool Aid that Larry Johnson has for him, the same elixir that Johnson gave many defensive ends before him.