Defensive line coach Larry Johnson says Schutt is having a great spring.
Schutt, meanwhile, has a clear motivation.
"I think I've disappointed some people around here, including myself," he said Thursday, reflecting on a career that has included three seasons as a reserve. "I've taken this offseason very seriously and I'm trying to get myself as prepared as I can to make the biggest impact I can."
It is true that big things were expected of Schutt when he arrived from Glen Ellyn, Ill., as a five-star prospect as a late get in the class of 2012, the first put together by head coach Urban Meyer.
Schutt was one of the top 50 players in the nation in his high school class, but his career has been marked by injury – repeated issues with his foot and ankle – and admitted ineffectiveness. In three seasons, Schutt has played in 29 games and has 17 tackles, three quarterback hurries and half a sack.
To Meyer, that hasn’t been good enough, as the coach has repeatedly mentioned this spring that the Buckeyes need more from the depth players at defensive tackle. Last year, Michael Bennett earned All-America honors and Washington cemented himself as a dependable starter, but those players took the lion’s share of the snaps as Schutt was the next-most productive tackle.
“Your interior guys, your Donovan Munger, your Tommy Schutt, very disappointed – not with who they are, but you have to play,” Meyer said at the start of spring.
That message was heard loud and clear by those at the position this spring, and with just one year of eligibility remaining, Schutt is at the front of the line.
“Coach Johnson tells us to use it as motivation,” he said. “We use that as bulletin board things among our room. We know we need to get better. I think this spring, we’ve made a lot of improvements and great strides so far. We have to use it (as motivation).”
So far, it seems as though Schutt is leading the charge. Right now he’s working with the first team as the nose guard, while Washington has returned to the 3-technique tackle (lines up between offensive guard and tackle) role at which he started last season.
“He’s had a great spring,” Johnson said. “One thing, he’s been hurt two years in a row so he didn’t get a chance to get on the field. This year he’s probably dropped 15-16 pounds. He’s lighter than he was last season. He’s moving real well. I really think he’s having a great spring.”
“He’s a really smart player, he can play the run. He’s really intelligent. And he gets everybody to line up. That’s the kind of thing you have to have inside.”
Schutt refused to use the injuries as an excuse, instead saying he simply needs to be better. In an attempt to see results on the field, Schutt has dropped from just over 300 pounds to the 285/290 range and drilled himself on fundamentals during the offseason, something he admitted he hasn’t been consistent with in previous seasons.
“The past couple of years, I haven’t done exactly what I’ve wanted to do,” he said. “This offseason, I really took pride in myself and trying to become more of a leader and get myself the most prepared for the fall. I feel great – outstanding.”
Whether it will be enough to replace Bennett’s 41 tackles, 14 TFL and seven sacks remains to be seen, but as Meyer said in March, “If Mike Bennett leaves and you’re not as good as Mike Bennett, our team’s not as good.”
Schutt wants the Buckeyes to be just as good, if not better.
“It’s very important to me and my family and the success of the team,” he said. “Losing a guy like Michael Bennett, I have big shoes to fill and I understand that. I need to have a big year to make up where we lost Mike.”
His teammates expect that to happen.
“(He can be) off the charts,” Washington said. “I think he’s going to be that this year because he knows he has to step up and play that role, and I think he’ll be ready.”