After spending the past three seasons focused on generating pressure off the edge for the Ohio State defense, defensive lineman Zach Harrison’s repertoire is beginning to expand to the interior.
During last Saturday’s 49-10 win over Rutgers, Harrison was seen lining up as a defensive tackle in certain packages, and the immediate results were encouraging for defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and his defense.
As a tackle, Harrison forced a fumble of Rutgers quarterback Evan Simon in the first half that was recovered by Mike Hall Jr., and his exceptional length for a tackle led to a tipped pass in the second half that was intercepted by linebacker Steele Chambers.
Following the game, head coach Ryan Day said Harrison is playing the best football of his career since arriving at Ohio State as a highly-coveted five-star recruit out of Olentangy Orange High School.
Although the snaps at tackle were limited for Harrison a week ago, if he has any say in the matter moving forward, it’s a role in which he will see increased playing time as the season progresses.
“I told (defensive line) coach (Larry Johnson) I like it,” Harrison said following Wednesday’s practice. “If he wants to put me in there, I have no problem going in and rushing at the 3-tech (defensive tackle position) … I told him I like it and am willing to do it.”
Of course, there is a learning curve associated with the move that Harrison will need to continue to progress through if Johnson and Knowles’ intentions are to keep featuring him at tackle.
“It’s a little different,” Harrison said of playing inside. “There’s not as much space, but I definitely like doing it, and I definitely want to continue doing it. I gotta get reps in at practice to perfect my craft because I have countless reps rushing at (defensive) end on offensive tackles, but I don’t have as many rushing on the guard, so that’s something I’m continuing to work on and I’m excited about.”
Harrison’s length and speed, which are his two biggest assets as a pass rusher, present a different challenge for interior offensive linemen typically geared toward moving a different body type more commonly found in the trenches.
“It’s just practicing, getting more reps, and using what God gave me with my length and my speed to put them in positions they’re not used to,” Harrison said. “They’re used to quicker, heavier-set guys and more powerful guys. I don’t necessarily have that, but I have different things that can provide problems for inside guys.”
“I think it’s great,” Knowles said of Harrison’s expanded role. “It’s great for him, it’s great for his future, and it’s great for our defense … And it gives people something to think about, too, and plan for.”
As Knowles alluded to during his Tuesday press conference, the versatility of being able to play inside or out is sure to help Harrison’s draft stock when he leaves Ohio State. However, Harrison said his willingness to do both isn’t a result of anything related to the NFL, but rather what it could mean for his team.
“I don’t think about the next level too much. I’m just trying to help the Buckeyes win,” he said.