Ohio State’s coaches want to see more of Johnathan Hankins on the field this fall. They believe that is possible thanks to there being less of him to see in his uniform than last year.
The 6-3 Detroit Southeastern product arrived in Columbus last season as a 350-pound true freshmen of whom not much was expected right away, but he ended up becoming a regular in the defensive line rotation and contributing 17 tackles.
Most of his 89 minutes of playing time came as a backup to senior nose guard Dexter Larimore last season, but practiced more at 3-technique tackle and end during spring practice.
That has continued since the start of preseason camp, too, and defensive line coach Jim Heacock said there is good reason for that.
"We need him on the field as much as we can because he is talented,” Heacock said. “He's a really good football player. And he's gotten himself into shape. He's had a good offseason. He's healthy. He had a bad knew the last couple games of the season last year. He didn't play much in the bowl game, but he's healthy now and I think he's ready to go. I think we expect him to step up.”
Hankins is happy to hear that, and he is glad to expand his role.
"They've got me at end for situations when we play teams like Wisconsin, just to give us an extra edge and get sound on the run game,” Hankins said. “I feel comfortable there against the run and with the pass rush. Then I go down to the middle (on passing downs) and it's just about the same."
Head coach Luke Fickell, a former defensive lineman himself, declared before the start of camp that Hankins’ development would be an important part of how the defense evolves.
If Hankins can do more than plug the middle, junior John Simon is freed to work outside more and junior Garrett Goebel can move into the lineup at nose guard.
"I think I can handle it,” Hankins said when asked about being counted upon. “The coaches are expecting a lot out of me and I'm just trying to give them all I can to better the defense because we're a little young this year."
He laughed when asked what position he prefers, explaining that he is starting to like end because it gives him a chance to rush the passer.
“But I would probably say nose because I've been playing it since I was little. It just comes natural to me.”
Sophomore Adam Bellamy admitted seeing Hankins expand his role is something of a surprise, but he expressed no doubt the big man from Michigan can handle it.
"Oh yeah, for being 330 or 335ish he's got great get-off and is good on his feet, so he's very impressive,” said Bellamy, who looks ticketed for a role as the first man off the bench at any of the three line spots.
As for Hankins, he seems to be enjoying his second season after coming across the border.
While other linemen received more publicity than him, he cruised into Ohio State under the radar as a three-star prospect. He did not seem to have any lingering bitterness about being overlooked by some recruiters and said he appreciates not only getting a chance to play in scarlet and gray but also an opportunity to be more than just a big body.
"Coming out of high school, I didn't really get as much exposure, but I just played through it and once people realize how much potential I have, they see it,” he said. “The coaches here saw it when I first got here. It's pretty gratifying.”