Robert Landers sat in the back of the room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, waiting for his turn to speak at the weekly Ohio State Buckeyes press conference Tuesday.
Head coach Ryan Day preceded Landers as did linebackers coach Al Washington and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich. Finally, Jerry Emig, Ohio State’s associate athletic director for communications, called Landers to the podium.
“Are you ready for the main attraction?” said Landers as he rose from his seat.
Then walking past Emig, Landers told him, “I love you, Jerry.”
There are higher-ranked recruits on Ohio State’s roster than the fifth-year senior defensive tackle Landers. He’s not the top NFL prospect on the team, though he’ll get his chance at that level next spring. There’s little doubt, however, that Landers is among the most interesting Buckeyes on and off the field.
Landers has worn different cowboy hats to each of the first two home games. He spoke out publicly about the importance of mental health after the shootings in Dayton’s Oregon District. He has spoken multiple times throughout his career about how the memories of his late father motivate him.
On Tuesday, Landers opened his press conference with a mention of Extra Yard for Teachers Week.
“If any of you all were teachers,” Landers said, “I appreciate you all. I love you all.”
Landers then thanked several teachers he had at Wayne High School: Amy Fugate, Mike Fernandez and Emily Wall. Almost five years after he played his last game for the Warriors, Landers is once again playing a large role for the Ohio State defense. He has appeared in 42 games the past four seasons.
Landers started the first game against Florida Atlantic and recorded three tackles. He came off the bench against Cincinnati and Indiana, earning a champion grade for his play against the Hoosiers. He had three quarterback hurries in a 51-10 victory in Bloomington, Ind.
Landers is just one reason the Buckeyes rank 10th in the nation in scoring defense (10.1 points per game). He was asked specifically about Ohio State’s success on third down. Opponents have converted 11 of 48 third-down attempts (22.9 percent). The defense ranks eighth in the country in that stat.
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“We play a lot of football in practice,” Landers said. “We’ve been playing a lot of football in practice since camp started. We do a lot of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2, and it’s one of those things where you’ve got the best on the best. It allows you to simulate the game the best that you possibly can. Once we get to the game, you’ve seen it, you’ve done it lord knows how many times. I feel we’re prepared going into a lot of those situations.”
Playing against Ohio State’s first-year starting quarterback, Justin Fields, who has nine touchdown passes in the first three games, also helps makes the defense better.
“He is a phenomenal football player both physically and mentally,” Landers said. “His IQ level is ridiculous. It’s through the roof. Up front, if we don’t do our job and get pressure on him — and I know we can’t hit him — but we can try to collapse the pocket and give him different looks up front so he has to make split decisions. We have to come prepared and perform on a daily basis because, if not, he’ll pick our defense apart.”
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