COLUMBUS — Tyreke Smith has been in many positions at Ohio State.
He was a backup. He was a name on availability report for the wrong reason. He was a co-starter.
Entering Year Three for the Buckeyes, Smith is now in the highest position for the Buckeyes: Next in line.
In the outrageous litany of incredible talent the Buckeyes have lined up at defensive end for the last six years, the Buckeyes have produced three top-three picks along the defensive line and 11 draft selections overall.
Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young are the gold standard in Larry Johnson’s defensive line room. Young was the latest, and he worked alongside Smith last season. Now that Young is off to the NFL, the next man up is now up.
Tyreke Smith is ready to take the leap.
“I talked to Chase a lot,” Smith said Wednesday on a Zoom video conference with reporters. “He’s always just telling me to trust my technique, trust Coach Johnson and trust the system. Every time I talk to him, he keeps telling me to just be myself, trust in what Coach Johnson has to say and it’ll all take itself from there. I just let God handle it. I work as hard as I can work and I do what I can do to make myself better and help the team get better.
“Then I just hope everything falls into place.”
This is the spotlight Tyreke Smith was always supposed to be in. He was recruited to be a dominant defensive end for the Buckeyes on his way to becoming a first-round pick. The borderline five-star prospect chose the Buckeyes over Penn State because he wanted to be part of that tradition.
The first two years of his career have allowed him to build toward a breakout season. Smith played in 13 games as a true freshman. Minor injuries slowed him down before last season. But even with nagging issues, Smith played in 11 games as a sophomore and recorded the first three sacks of his career.
His jump to stardom is coming in Year Three. And it won’t surprise anyone.
“This year really is important,” Smith said. “It’s my junior year, and I’ve been hurt a little bit. But I’ve been taking my time on my body and trying to go about it different, eat different, make sure I’m good off the field in terms of my injuries and stuff like that, getting in the treatment room extra. In terms of football, I’m working hard, trying to just hone in on what Coach J is saying, listen to him and learn all I can from him. Do extra, watch extra film, do everything I can as far as I can go to get better.”
Smith has always possessed the tools to be great. He’s 6-foot-4. He’s nearly 270 pounds. He has a quick twitch and an incredible first burst off the line of scrimmage.
But becoming a superstar at Ohio State on Larry Johnson’s defensive line takes time, patience and perfecting every little detail. That’s what the first two seasons did for Smith. They gave him time to make sure he was ready.
“I feel like if Tyreke Smith was a starter anywhere else, he would already be that big name,” said defensive lineman Tyler Friday, who came to Ohio State as part of the 2018 recruiting class with Smith. “Tyreke, the way he gets off the ball is something beautiful to watch. I tell him everyday, that’s some of the craziest get-offs I’ve seen.”
Ohio State always has a superstar pass-rusher. It’s becoming a tradition as much as Buckeye Leaves and Dotting The “I.” It dates far beyond Chase Young and the Bosa brothers.
But this version of that tradition, the one in which Smith purchases real estate in Big Ten backfields, might look different than past editions. The Buckeyes have five starters, including two former five-star recruits. Smith is not alone. Five different defensive ends can get to the quarterback, and Johnson plans to use that to his advantage.
A fresh pass-rusher is the best pass-rusher. Ohio State will prove that.
“You’ve got five guys, and they all could be starting anywhere in the country,” Johnson said. “I’m going to treat them that way. They’re all five starters for me right now. So, we’re going to a good job of making sure each guy gets to start as we go through the season. … Some guys are going to emerge and push themselves ahead. If that happens, we’ll make a change. But right now, they all have an opportunity to be a starter.”
If Smith stays healthy, the change may come sooner rather than later. Smith has stayed focused through all the distractions and the noise of this unique offseason to become the best defensive end he can be.
The best version of Tyreke Smith could be devastating for opposing offensive lines.
“I’m just trying to do everything I can,” he said. “Watching tape after practice, seeing little things with Coach J or looking at tape with him and seeing what I can do better. Just all the things, my hands, violent hands, low pads, get-off, all of that.”
As he continues to work toward the Oct. 24 start of the season against Nebraska, Smith is confident that what he did the last two seasons and what he did this offseason will end with a breakout year. He’s not alone in that line of thinking.
The Buckeyes have always had a dominant defensive end. No matter who gets asked, the answer stays the same.
Tyreke Smith is next in line.
“Chase and Nick have been here, I’ve seen both of them play,” Friday said. “I tell Tyreke all the time: ‘Man, you got it.’ I could definitely see Tyreke emerging into that star.”