Michael Bennett will be the new veteran presence along the D-line. - Kirk Irwin
We've explored the depths of Ohio State's offense. Now, we'll take a look at the work Urban Meyer and his staff have built up on the defensive line – the youngest position on the team, but the group with the most potential.
In the 2012 season, Ohio State's defensive line was anchored by two studs: Big Ten defensive player of the year (and OSU's spiritual leader) John Simon and future first or second day 2013 NFL Draft pick, Johnathan Hankins. Garrett Goebel started at the other defensive tackle spot opposite Hankins, while veterans Michael Bennett and Nathan Williams each made solid contributions. Unfortunately, four of the five players mentioned are moving on – two likely to be drafted and two with real shots to catch on as NFL free agents. Ohio State's defensive line in 2013 will be considerably younger. With the loss of two superstars and one solid contributor, any other school's defensive coordinators and line coaches would be grinding roll after roll of Tums into powder and then pouring it down their throats like Pixy Stix.
Fortunately, during the past two years, Luke Fickell, Mike Vrabel and Urban Meyer have recruited defensive linemen at a clip ordinarily reserved only for the SEC's elite (Alabama, LSU, Florida, et al). Within weeks of taking the Ohio State job, Meyer flipped highly recruited prospects from other Big Ten schools (now former OSU d-lineman Se'Von Pittman from MSU, Noah Spence from PSU) and snagged five-star tackle Tommy Schutt from the heart of Illini country. With the addition of Adolphus Washington, a beastly prospect from Cincinnati Taft, and with young linemen like the aforementioned Bennett, Steve Miller, Joel Hale, and J.T. Moore in the fold already, most coaches would be pleased as punch with the possible lineup combinations there in.
Meyer wasn't even close to done, though. To compete with the big boys of the SEC, elite caliber depth must be added every single year at the defensive line spot. To that end, Fickell, Dr. Professor Vrabro and recruiting whiz Everett Withers hit the trail hard during this past season. Joey Bosa, a four-to-five star DE (who not unlike Washington might even be able to play some DT too) from the heart of Florida and SEC territory, was the first to commit. Tracy Sprinkle, a three-star pure hybrid who showed flashes of high-caliber talent, was the next domino to fall and enrolled early. Billy Price is the second-highest rated defensive line prospect, a consensus four-star from Youngstown. Another player from the SEC country committed in South Carolina's Michael Hill, a four-star in his own right. Tyquan Lewis, from Tarboro, NC, eschewed the ACC in favor of the scarlet and gray. Lastly, Donovan Munger flipped from Florida State to stay in-state and can play along either offensive or defensive line. The repeated addition of this type of talent, year after year, will make Ohio State a player on the national championship sooner rather than later.
It looks as of right now that the starters along the defensive line will be Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, Joel Hale and Adolphus Washington with Tommy Schutt the first defensive tackle off the bench. The most polished and experienced of the four currently is Michael Bennett, while the most talented in the group and the one with the most potential is gigantic Adolphus Washington. These four may be Ohio State's best against the run, and should help set the tone early on in games. J.T. Moore was counted on in pressure situations last year when Nathan Williams or John Simon were unavailable and could also work his way into the mix.
The nice part about having so much depth at the defensive line position is that the depth chart right now is very fluid and ultimately irrelevant. Each player mentioned is talented enough to earn a starting position, and that isn't even taking into account deep depth-providing veterans such as John Holman and Rashad Frazier. Se'Von Pittman's absence takes away a small hue of depth, but Urban Meyer will not redshirt many – if any – of the new arrivals (Michael Hill, Billy Price, Donovan Mungur or Tracy Sprinkle seem like the most likely candidates to be hit with a redshirt). It's not even out of the question Joey Bosa plays his way into a fringe starting role by season's end. It seems like right now, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington are the only two sure starters on Opening Day.
After Washington and Bennett, the next defensive tackles up are J.T. Moore, Schutt, and the gigantic (6'4", 340lbs) Chris Carter. At times, Schutt played with Spence, Simon and Washington at the same time as part of a "Baby Buckeye" defensive line package. Expect that to continue (minus Simon, of course) as that package is probably the best at getting after an opposing quarterback in a passing situation. Spence flashed some nasty pass-rush ability at times last season.
For the defensive line, expect high-caliber players to be rotated in and out often. Whether Steve Miller, Joey Bosa or one of the other freshman take the field, there will be no shortage of talent and no rest for offensive linemen across the Big Ten. The defensive line may be young and unproven, but it is loaded with at least one or two future stars. Despite all the losses to graduation, transfer, and the draft, Buckeye nuts everywhere should be fired up for the 2013 defensive line class.