Key Losses: John Simon, Jonathan Hankins, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel
Returning Starters: None
Projected Starters: Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, Joel Hale, Adolphus Washington
Often when a team loses all four of its defensive linemen starters over the offseason, chaos ensues. But such is not the case for the Buckeyes this season. Thanks to the efforts of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and Co., the Buckeyes boast a defensive line depth chart oozing with talent that has the potential to achieve greatness.
John Simon and Jonathan Hankins anchored the Ohio State defensive line like few have before. These two beasts caused havoc for opposing offensive lines, breaking through blockers while attacking quarterbacks and ball carriers. Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel were also solid players who provided reliable play, and will also be missed. Regardless, the potential among Ohio State’s up-and-coming defensive linemen is amazing.
Adolphus Washington could be the most promising lineman for the Buckeyes. Standing at 6’3, 290 pounds, the redshirt freshman has an immense amount of talent. A Rivals five-star recruit, the imposing player out of Cincinnati Taft High School racked up an incredible 23.5 sacks, 90 tackles and three forced fumbles in his senior season. Washington is a no-brainer choice to start at defensive tackle, where he saw some time in 2012. His task will be translating his dominance at the high school level to success in grueling Big Ten play.
Another one of Meyer’s gems from the 2012 class, Noah Spence looks to be a lock for a defensive end spot. Another Rivals five-star recruit, he was the top-ranked player in Pennsylvania. In his junior and senior years at Bishop McDevitt High School, Spence notched 204 tackles, 35.5 sacks and 50 tackles for loss. He appeared in a few games last season for the Bucks and gave fans a glimpse of his potential. Just like Washington, Noah Spence has loads of talent that he must transform into success at the college level.
The third probable starter is the most experienced of the bunch. Junior Michael Bennett has been the primary backup to studs such as John Simon and Nathan Williams for a couple of seasons. Bennett played in all of OSU’s 13 games in 2011, tallying 17 tackles, five sacks and seven tackles for loss. The defensive tackle only played in eight games last year due to injury, but still looked solid in his limited playing time, recording 11 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Listed as a defensive tackle in 2012, Bennett will most likely line up at defensive end, opening the door for a couple of young prospects at the tackle spot opposite Washington.
Joel Hale looks to be the frontrunner to earn the last starting spot on the defensive line. The 6’4, 310 pound junior will most likely occupy the nose tackle position after backing up Goebel last season. Hale appeared in seven games in 2012, attaining six tackles. He also saw significant action in Fickell’s one year stint as head coach, as Hale recorded four tackles in eight games. He will be relied upon to bring stability to a young defensive line. As two of the oldest and most experienced players at the position, Hale and Bennett need to step up and lead the youngsters this season.
Leading Ohio State’s backups is Tommy Schutt. The redshirt freshman was part of Urban Meyer’s outstanding class of 2012. Schutt was a five-star Rivals recruit and the top-ranked player in Illinois. He could not be contained during his senior year at Glenbard West High School, racking up 73 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. The young defensive tackle could threaten for a starting role depending on his play during spring practice. Many are talking about this young prospect, as Rivals compares him to current Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji. The Ohio State coaching staff would certainly be overjoyed to see Schutt emerge, as Raji did at Boston College, as an anchor of the defensive line.
On the same level as Schutt is junior J.T. Moore. Called on at times to replace Williams or Simon when one of them needed a break, Moore has the size (6’3, 262 pounds) to play either end or tackle. He enters his fourth season as a Buckeye and looks to earn more playing time after appearing in just four games as a sophomore. Offseason rumors indicated that while Moore was upset he did not play more, he did not choose to transfer. Some of his disappointment was justified, as Moore performed well during his freshman year after Williams suffered a season-ending injury in early October of 2011. Moore played in all 13 games, recording nine tackles and a tackle for loss. Though Moore isn’t as bright a star as some of the other players on this defensive line, if Moore can become a reliable contributor, the Buckeyes will be much better off.
Also seeking more playing time will be the massive Chris Carter. Weighing in at 340 pounds (and standing at 6’4), the sophomore can play on both sides of the ball. He started off as an offensive lineman as a true freshman, but was switched over to the other side of the ball midway through spring drills in 2012. The big man projects as a nose tackle, as he can certainly occupy a lot of space. Carter’s size will help him in cementing his role as the man in the middle, but may hinder Carter in earning Urban’s favor. As Meyer’s track record at Florida shows, the Bucks’ ball coach prefers quicker linemen to big, slow defenders. Carter could still earn playing time, but he will most likely be behind Schutt and Moore on the depth chart.
One prospect Ohio State will have to do without is Se’Von Pittman. The four-star Rivals recruit, who decommitted from Michigan State soon after Meyer was hired, was granted a release from his scholarship by Ohio State just over a week ago. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Pittman asked for his release due to an “off-the-field issue” and is “looking for a fresh start.” Buckeye fans need not worry, though, as a number of other exciting prospects are eager to take his place in the depth chart.
Meyer again focused on fortifying the defensive line in his 2013 recruiting class. Six of his 24 incoming recruits are defensive linemen. All possess remarkable ability and promise. The one garnering the most attention is Joey Bosa. A defensive end from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the young man was ranked as the ninth best recruit in the state and the 46th best in the nation. As his high school coach, Rocco Casullo, told ESPN.com, “I think Joey is one of the more complete defensive linemen to ever come out of here [St. Thomas Aquinas HS] as far as size, strength and his work ethic. He’s pretty special.” Keep in mind that St. Thomas Aquinas is the Alma Mater of current Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Bosa might not receive extensive time at first, but he could see increased playing time as the season wears on. His potential may be too great for the OSU coaching staff to ignore.
Yet another recruit who has defensive line coach Mike Vrabel salivating is Michael Hill. Also a four-star Rivals recruit, Hill was ranked as the best prospect from South Carolina for the 2013 recruiting class. The defensive tackle chose Ohio State over eight SEC schools that offered him a scholarship, including Alabama, Florida and LSU, that offered him a scholarship. Also destined for Columbus is Tyquan Lewis. The Tarboro, North Carolina native received offers from a host of schools, including numerous ACC schools and a few SEC programs. The incoming freshman plays weakside defensive end and will look to advance his way up the depth chart come August.
One player who has already made the trip to Columbus is Tracy Sprinkle. The Elyria (OH) Pioneer enrolled early and looks to make an impact during spring practice. Another highly-touted Ohio recruit to choose the Buckeyes is Billy Price. A four-star Rivals defensive tackle out of Austintown Fitch, Price can plow over offensive linemen as he pleases. He often did the same to defensive linemen while playing on offense during his time as a Falcon. And don’t forget about Donovan Munger. The defensive tackle from Shaker Heights originally committed to play at Florida State, but was swayed to be a Buckeye by OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton and Vrabel. Even beyond all of these exciting freshmen, juniors John Holman and Rashad Frazier will provide deep depth at the position. There is certainly no shortage of defensive linemen this year.
To say that now is an exciting time for Ohio State football would be an understatement. Urban Meyer has lifted a program that was in shambles to a spot in the upper echelon of the Big Ten. His focus on recruiting defensive linemen has certainly helped, as the position is stocked with talent for years to come. Though it may take some time for the young players at the position to become consistent, eventually Ohio State’s defensive line will become the Buckeyes’ backbone, allowing the defense to dominate for years to come.
Information from Land-GrantHolyLand.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and The Plain Dealer was used in this article.