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How Tyleik Williams could carve out early role for Ohio State

Austin-Wardby:Austin Ward06/29/21


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 Tyleik Williams as part of Position Week? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

Ohio State is recruiting guys who are clearly exceptions, not the rule.

So, while it’s tempting to throw away the old coaching cliches when looking at a 6-foot-3, 330-pounder who boasts agility that nobody his size should have, they are important to keep in mind even for the most talented of freshmen. The closer a guy is to the football, the harder it’s going to be for a young player to make an impact.

Can Tyleik Williams prove to be an outlier? Sure, because it absolutely helps that he brings physical traits that make him something of a rarity on the Ohio State roster. The Buckeyes just lost their best block-eating, run-stuffing strong man in the middle when Tommy Togiai declared for the draft. So that need combined with Williams enrolling early to get a jump start on developing his big frame is also a plus for him.

But just about every defensive tackle who has come before him in Larry Johnson’s position room can vouch for the fact that the process simply doesn’t happen overnight — and Togiai might be the prime examples of that. In terms of raw power, Togiai arrived on campus looking like a seasoned veteran and apparently ready to jump into the rotation from Day One. But it essentially took two years until his technique, knowledge of his responsibilities in the system and the complete transition into a championship-caliber defender took hold. Even if the position might seem relatively straightforward from the outside, the demands of playing on the interior of the defensive line make true freshmen capable of handling them quite rare.

Antwuan Jackson-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State senior Antwuan Jackson has a chance to help the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

For Williams specifically, an injury that limited him in spring camp didn’t do him any favors in speeding up the process. And even if defensive tackle doesn’t leap off the page as one of the deepest spots on the Ohio State roster, the rise of Taron Vincent, the veteran experience of Antwuan Jackson and Jerron Cage plus the year of growth for guys like Jacolbe Cowan, Jaden McKenzie and Ty Hamilton mean it’s not exactly urgent to play a newcomer.

“I’m very excited about our interior defensive linemen,” Day said in the spring. “Haskell’s been out, but he’ll be back soon. Then inside, Antwuan Jackson’s been playing as good as he’s played. I’m glad that he’s back for another year. Veteran guy you can count on. Jerron Cage is playing his best football.

“Tyleik Williams has flashed. He still has to learn how to sustain, but he definitely flashes.”

Those glimpses of the upside Ohio State saw before Williams was slowed by injury are significant and help validate his four-star recruiting ranking. And that’s critical for the future, particularly since the Buckeyes are set to lose three interior defensive linemen after this season.

He’ll certainly have every opportunity to prove he’s an exception starting in August. But Year Two will be when the intensity figures to pick up with Tyleik Williams.

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