COLUMBUS — The Ohio State football team was hit hard by graduation and defection to the NFL, and coach Urban Meyer said Saturday’s spring game was going to be an opportunity for many players to audition for starting roles and increased playing time.
One of the areas of need is defensive line, and a pair of Lorain County athletes did their best to impress during the intrasquad scrimmage.
Elyria’s Tracy Sprinkle, a redshirt junior defensive tackle, sacked starting quarterback J.T. Barrett several times — Barrett was not allowed to be tackled so the sacks/tackles were open for interpretation — and pressured him when he threw a second-quarter interception that sophomore safety Malik Hooker returned 82 yards for a touchdown during the Gray team’s 28-17 victory.
Lorain’s Rashod Berry, a redshirt freshman defensive end, played nearly every down for the opposing Scarlet team and made his spring game debut special by sacking and forcing freshman quarterback Joe Burrow to fumble on the first defensive play.
“There’s a lot of pressure on Coach (Larry) Johnson and that unit,” Meyer said. “When we won the national championship (in 2014) the defensive line played as well as any team in America, and a good chunk of those guys are gone. I think they’re talented, very eager and we have an excellent D-line coach.”
The big defensive line losses from last season include end Joey Bosa and tackles Tommy Schutt and Joel Hale.
Sprinkle was No. 2 on the depth chart behind Donovan Munger last season, and many believe the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder could join Munger in the starting lineup this year.
“You have to be confident that you’ll be the starter and you’ll be able to take up that leadership role,” Sprinkle said. “But it doesn’t really matter because we rotate guys in to the defensive line, so everybody is going to get a chance to play.”
Sprinkle has been taking most of the first-team reps this spring, and shined when given the opportunity early in Saturday’s game.
Barrett tried to scramble in the first possession and Sprinkle cut back to meet the quarterback at the line and touch him down for a loss. During the next series, Sprinkle used a spin move to the inside to break loose of his blocker and sprinted through the pocket to sack Barrett.
“It was one-on-one (blocking) so I took a chance with that spin move and it paid off,” Sprinkle said. “It feels good when it works, especially at a point when you might be able to change the outcome of the game.”
Sprinkle shook loose on another play and sandwiched Barrett with cornerback Denzel Ward for another sack, then fought through a holding penalty to pressure Barrett into the pick-six.
“Me and J.T. are real close, so we joked a little bit (about Sprinkle’s dominating first half),” Sprinkle said. “I actually hit the ball on that throw.”
Sprinkle said Johnson limited most of the top-tier defensive linemen to about 15 plays. That freed up Berry, who was also part of several special teams formations, to play most of the game at defensive end after starting for Scarlet.
“It was a good experience,” Berry said. “I was happy to come out here and show what I can do and I was just having fun. I was hungry. I was doing it for Lorain, for real.”
Just a few months ago Berry probably envisioned catching touchdown passes in the spring game instead of sacking quarterbacks and forcing fumbles. He was recruited to be a tight end and learned that position last year as a true freshman, but switched to defensive end during the offseason. He played both positions for the Titans.
“The change in position was cool,” he said. “Tight end, I thought that was my position, but defensive end is more comfortable for me so I love it.”
Overall the defensive lines finished with nine sacks and 13 tackles for loss during the spring game.
“I liked our defensive line,” Meyer said. “Mike Hill, Dre’Mont Jones was all over the field today, Jashon Cornell played well. I think Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard played well. Tyquan Lewis didn’t play, so you have to pick up the pieces of what left the program.
“You have to be a high draft pick to play defensive end (at Ohio State). We’re not embarrassed, we’re not ashamed to say that’s what has to happen. We’re not going to change our standards, and that was a message all week to our players. We certainly don’t lower our standards just because a player moves on — that’s not what this place is all about.”
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