Zach Harrison is well aware of the standard that has been set for defensive ends at Ohio State.
Under the tutelage of Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who was hired in 2014, the Buckeyes have enjoyed consistently dominant play upfront, thanks in large part to the successes of Johnson on the recruiting trail. Harrison is the next in a long line of highly-coveted recruits who have come to Columbus with immense potential, and after turning in a solid campaign as a true freshman, the buzz around his name has only increased, both locally and on the national scene, as he prepares for a featured role this season.
But before he can be the next Chase Young, Nick Bosa, or Joey Bosa, the Olentangy Orange graduate is simply focused on being the best of himself, knowing that if he is, the rest will take care of itself.
“Those guys that came before me, they’re a bunch of great players,” Harrison said on Tuesday during a media session. “There are a lot of expectations for me to do so-and-so numbers. Honestly, I don’t try to think about that. Every day at practice, I have to go out and get better and work on my technique.”
Harrison got his feet wet early last season, immediately factoring into the rotation and the “Rushmen” package. By season’s end, Harrison had started two games, including the Buckeyes’ loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff, and recorded the second-most snaps of any defensive end other than Young.
Harrison said he did “a lot of good things” during his freshman season, including recording 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks, but he knows there is still plenty of room to improve as he attempts to make a significant leap as a sophomore.
“Looking back on the tape from last year, there are so many things I could have done better, and that’s what I’ve focused on most of this year,” Harrison said.
Specifically, Harrison said he wants to improve on his pass-rushing arsenal this season, as well as his consistency in being able to play at a high level in every snap he’s in on.
With Johnson’s guidance, Harrison figures to make considerable leaps in both aspects, and Johnson said he’s been very impressed this offseason with how Harrison has matured.
“He’s really done a great job of maturing as a young player,” Johnson said. “He listens very well, he’s very coachable. He has all the attributes that we look for in a player. Zach is a player who, if you tell him to do something, he does it exactly as you asked him, and that’s what you want in your players.”
Harrison’s ability to match his size and athleticism with attention to detail and a willingness to learn bodes well for him and an Ohio State defense that will need to replace Young’s 16.5 sacks last season, a single-season school record. But just like Harrison is focused on being his best self, Johnson, too, is careful to help guard the sophomore against trying to instantly match the legendary talents that have preceded him.
“I tell players all the time, ‘You can’t live up to that standard,’” Johnson said. “The Bosas are special players. Chase Young is a special player. But you can live up to who you can possibly be, and I think that is the biggest challenge. He has to block the noise from the outside saying that he’s going to be the next guy, and really continue to concentrate on his development. That’s what I’ve been talking to him about. Just be the best player you can be, and don’t worry about the standards set before you.”
Johnson added he does a great deal of talking with Harrison about staying balanced and setting expectations, which Johnson said can be difficult for sophomores to do as they try to step into larger roles.
“He’s still just a sophomore, and as a sophomore, he’s still learning how to do things the right way,” Johnson said. “But I like where he’s at. He has a chance (to be great). It really just depends on him and how he develops moving forward.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.