After spending last year trying to fit into the newly-introduced “jack” position in Jim Knowles’ defense, Jack Sawyer is looking forward to returning to a more traditional pass-rushing role in his junior season.
Sawyer came to Ohio State as a highly-touted athlete out of Pickerington North High School and, alongside 2021 classmate J.T. Tuimoloau, was widely regarded as the next star in the program’s recent run of producing elite defensive linemen. But after getting his feet wet at defensive end in limited time as a freshman, Sawyer’s athleticism was pegged as a natural fit for Knowles’ hybrid position ahead of Knowles’ first season as defensive coordinator, leading Sawyer in a slightly different direction than what most had expected of him.
The transition was met with mixed results as Sawyer, oftentimes standing up and roaming around the line of scrimmage, flashed his elite combination of size and athleticism while still also leaving something to be desired for a player of his caliber. Now, Sawyer is back to lining up exclusively on the edge, and armed with the ability to simplify his approach and perfect his craft, big things could be in store for him in year three.
“I think it’s good to get back and work on the fundamentals of being a defensive end this spring,” Sawyer said at the start of spring practice. “We’ll see when the fall rolls around what all that entails, but I’m excited for it.”
Sawyer admitted it was “kind of a lot” last season trying to learn all of the plays for a jack position that, by nature, carries a lot of responsibilities. However, he downplayed any notion of being frustrated or uncomfortable last season. Rather, he was simply happy to help the team in any way and embraced the role he was asked to fill.
Once the offseason began for Ohio State following its loss in the College Football Playoff, conversations were held between Sawyer and the coaching staff about the best plan to utilize him moving forward. Sawyer said it was a mutual agreement between all parties that allowing him to focus solely on being a defensive end was the proper approach to maximizing his talent.
“It was what it was, but I’m excited to get back to playing defensive end, where I feel at home,” he said of last year’s experiment.
Sawyer still managed 4.5 sacks a year ago despite not having a true positional home in the defense, although the output did not mirror what he had envisioned for his first season as a significant player in the defense’s plans. He added that the same could probably be said for the entire defensive line from a sheer production standpoint, and the group is looking forward to increasing its sack and tackles for loss stats this season.
With Sawyer now positioned to be able to repeatedly test offensive tackles as soon as the ball is snapped, just as he was recruited to Ohio State to do, it would be a fair bet to assume the unit will see that rise in production across the board. Sawyer will also now have the benefit of receiving the full tutelage of defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. during practices this offseason, which should only aid in Sawyer’s emergence as a premier pass rusher as he hones in on the requisite skill set.
“I think his best trait is to put his hand in the ground and go rush,” Johnson said. “He’s 6-foot-5, 265 pounds coming off the edge, so we just have to go back and refine his technique and make it better. He can still drop (into coverage), but at the end of the day, we want him on the line of scrimmage, rushing the passer.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.