COLUMBUS — Jacolbe Cowan can play wherever he’s needed on the Ohio State defensive line.
Throughout high school and during his recruiting process, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Cowan showed he can slide inside and play on the interior. He proved he can rush the passer and make plays on the outside, too.
So when he arrived at Ohio State last month, there were questions about where he would fit in and play. It seems as if those have been answered already. Legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson and Cowan have already decided where he fits in — for now.
“Defensive end,” Cowan said. “That’s what I’ve been getting reps at since I’ve been here. Coach [Ryan] Day considers me a defensive end, he recruited me as a defensive end and that’s what I’ve been getting coached at the whole time.”
But that doesn’t necessarily put to bed the idea of Cowan finding himself back inside at either of the interior positions. He’s a defensive end. But his versatility along the defensive line might be his best attribute this early in his Buckeyes career.
That doesn’t mean he will always stay put, though. Cowan and Johnson are both working to make sure the early enrollee ends up in the best place to help the Buckeyes as soon as he’s ready. Ohio State seems excited about the possibilities for Cowan.
“Me and Coach Johnson have been in constant talk about possibly him putting me in certain situations, kind of like Nick Bosa or Joey Bosa, where he would move those guys inside in certain situations, depending on the matchup,” Cowan said. “I definitely think he’ll use my versatility to his advantage, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
Settled in at defensive end, Cowan is already with the older Buckeyes in the room. His hope is to make an instant impact, but he’s ready for whatever role he has in his first season. He was able to academically enroll early, so it made sense to get on campus and begin the process.
He’s taking classes already so he can graduate ahead of schedule at Ohio State. Oh, and football was a factor in that decision to enroll early, too.
“Really and truly, just getting the head start of everything in terms of academically, getting that semester so I can potentially graduate early in like three and a half years,” Cowan said. “That’s the end goal. And of course, getting acclimated to the weight room as well. Just getting stronger and giving me the best shot to play come fall.”
His best shot to play might be good enough to play early, but there is a jammed depth chart at defensive end. The Buckeyes lost Chase Young, but they also return every other defensive end from a year ago.
The same can’t be said on the inside, where the Buckeyes lost DaVon Hamilton, Robert Landers and Jashon Cornell. That’s where Cowan’s fellow early enrollee and childhood basketball friend Darrion Henry will likely try to take the next step as an instant contributor. But Cowan is on the outside, and if he wants his versatility to show up early, he’s spending time around the right guy.
“It’s pretty much all the guys [helping], but if you want to be specific to my position, defensive ends, like Zach Harrison, who’s a young guy but still older than me,” Cowan said. “He also came in mid-year last year so we kind of relate well.”
“He tells me how things were when he came in.”
Cowan has also spent time with veterans Tyreke Smith and Jonathon Cooper, who have done a good job of showing him how the program operates. They are helping him get acclimated so he can make that leap from high school superstar to Ohio State contributor early in his career.
He’s off to a good start, but even settled into a position, he feels like he has a long way to go before he’s ready.
“I have goals to chase and certain legacies that have been left before me to chase,” Cowan said. “I’m really just motivated by that, to come in and work hard every day. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself and just chase their footsteps and make my own path.”
That path will begin with Jacolbe Cowan at defensive end, but don’t be surprised if he moves. He’s versatile enough.