COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State is loaded with superstars at defensive end, but it could be a defensive tackle who steals the show this season.
When NFL draft analyst Matt Miller released his latest 2018 NFL mock draft July 27, Dre’Mont Jones was listed in the No 19 slot, ahead of any other Ohio State defensive lineman. Based on his production thus far, it might look curious. Jones redshirted in 2015 after tearing his right ACL in high school and then was thrust into a starting role in 2016 when Tracy Sprinkle was lost for the year. He finished with 52 tackles and 4 tackles for loss but wasn’t even honorable mention All-Big Ten.
However, that fails to account for a number of factors that have shaped his career and have him poised to develop into a game-changing type of player who could be off to the NFL after this season. What follows are thoughts from his teammates and coaches that explain why Jones looks like he’ll be the next big thing at Ohio State.
Jones tore his ACL in a basketball game in March 2015 while at Cleveland St. Ignatius, which ended any chance he had of playing as a freshman. Hoops cost him some time on the field, but it also gave him a fluidity that is rare for an interior lineman.
Since coming to Ohio State, Jones has bulked up to 280 pounds and moved inside to defensive tackle after playing defensive end in high school. That’s not a unique tactic for the Buckeyes, who used that position switch to turn Adolphus Washington into a star. And while the thinking behind that is to get a more natural pass rusher inside, Jones’ moves remind some of his teammates more of a basketball player than an end.
“It’s not that he was a defensive end, it’s more that you can tell he played basketball,” defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “Some of the stuff he does, I’m like… ‘Dre’Mont what was that?’ But it actually works! He’s going to be someone to watch this season.”
Ohio State center Billy Price is on pace to start more games than anyone in program history. He’s played in two College Football Playoffs and has lined up against the best of the best over the last three seasons. The best athlete he’s faced, though, has been Jones in practice this year, he said.
“He is the most twitched-up dude I’ve ever played against, and I played against Alabama when I was 20 years old and those guys are some monsters down there,” Price said. “He is the most twitched-up dude. He is so explosive that if you’re even half a step behind, he beats you every time.”
Landers said the explosiveness is relentless, and offensive linemen other than Price have taken notice of what Jones can do.
“He is a freak athlete,” left tackle Jamarco Jones said. “He played D-end in high school so he has that get off of a D-end, but he’s bigger. He reminds me of Adolphus, but he might be even quicker. He’s really explosive. I think he’s going to make a lot of plays on the defensive line.”
This spring, defensive line coach Larry Johnson challenged Jones to help Ohio State improve at a position where production has dropped off in recent years. The Buckeyes have had their share of outstanding defensive ends, but the same hasn’t been true for defensive tackles lately.
“Coach Johnson challenged him, saying we need to get more sacks and production out of our 3 technique in the pass-rush game, and he really took that to heart and went to work,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “You can see a drastic improvement in the way he rushes the quarterback, but also just in his mindset. Last year he didn’t know he was going to be a starter until after the first game. He’s been practicing and playing like a starter, which is what I’ve seen most from him.
“In this program you’re challenged every day, and it’s pretty obvious who answers the challenge and who doesn’t.”
Jones’ response to the challenge has Johnson’s stamp of approval.
“I’ll tell you what — so far, knock on wood, he’s done that,” he said.
This is Jones’ third year in the program, and he has an unexpected year as a starter under his belt. He went through an ACL tear and a position change, factors that aren’t really conducive to instant success. He has the athleticism and the drive, and now he has the experience to match his talent and work.
“Last year he was just kind of running around and being the young guy,” Price said. “Now he’s able to read an offensive lineman and read what the offense is doing.”
Adding that last component has helped to transform him into a completely different player than he was when he arrived at Ohio State.
“It’s night and day,” Johnson said of Jones’ career progression. “He’s taken so many leaps and bounds. He really has. He’s gotten stronger in the weight room. He’s always been a very bright player. He’s a 3.4 (GPA) student in the classroom. You see a guy really starting to elevate his game, and he wants to be great.”
All signs point to greatness occurring this season.
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