COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Adjust to a new defensive coordinator, a new scheme, and a new position. That’s what Jim Knowles asked of Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer last season.
The Pickerington North graduate was the No. 1-ranked high school player in Ohio for the class of 2021. Expectations for defensive ends are high thanks to the likes of Nick and Joey Bosa, Chase Young, Sam Hubbard, etc. Sophomore J.T. Tuimoloau, the highest-ranked defensive recruit in Ohio State history, surpassed those expectations last year. Sawyer did not, but his ability wasn’t the main reason, according to Knowles.
“He didn’t have the improvement or the big jump he could have last year because he got involved in the ‘Jack’ stuff,” Knowles said. “Maybe he wasn’t as focused as he could have been to make those improvements at d-end.”
That “Jack” stuff is a reference to the position Knowles has been using since his defensive coordinator days at Western Michigan. The position is a hybrid between defensive end and linebacker. Jack Sawyer played the ‘Jack’ position more than any other Ohio State player last season. Knowles estimated it was only used “15%” of the time, well below the 33% he was aiming for.
“We weren’t as productive out of it,” Knowles said. “You have to go with what works.”
A big reason Sawyer played at “Jack” was the season-ending injury Mitchell Melton suffered in the 2022 spring game. Coach Ryan Day said the team is slowly bringing Melton back into the fold, and they’re optimistic about the impact he’ll have this season. That clears the way for Sawyer to focus on being a true defensive end.
Even with the position change, Sawyer still recorded 4.5 sacks, tied with Mike Hall for most on the team. But defensive line coach Larry Johnson believes Sawyer only scratched the surface of his capabilities.
“You can see that he’s got the fire in his belly to really know where he’s gotta go to get to be a great player,” Johnson said in February. “He’s there. He’s just now doing it all the time. And I like the fact that he’s in that moment, he’s in that thought process like, ‘OK, here’s where I’m going, here’s where I’m at.’ And so that’s pretty cool.”
Despite the position not working last year, Knowles is committed to using it in the future and recruiting players to specifically play the “Jack.”
“We could get the best combo player in the country when we target one down the road,” Knowles said. “We’re Ohio State. That’s a position people don’t have. We can target the best one and build toward that and work toward that.”