When thinking of past Ohio State defenses a good number of the notable players seem to be located at either linebacker or in the defensive backfield. While this group of defensive ends might quite have the depth of a cornerback or outside linebacker, they certainly made up for it with how they could change the game with their pressure behind the line of scrimmage.
The candidates for the spots on the "All-Decade Team" are a mixture between your traditional pass rushers and those that were originally linebackers but turned into defensive ends when they made their way to Columbus. With both styles of defensive end having a standout, it's hard to say if one is better than another. I know that Buckeye fans will agree that they don't care either, just as long as they make their presence known in the offensive backfield.
The candidates are:
Mike Kudla (2002-2005)
Injuries really slowed the start to Kudla's Ohio State career, but he made up for lost time in his senior season, putting together a tremendous season. As a freshman Kudla didn't play much, and after the Fiesta Bowl he was hospitialized with a viral infection which caused him lose 40 pounds. A shoulder injury in 2003 spring practice and a pinched nerve in his neck during 2004 August practice were a couple other injuries that slowed Kudla during his time in Columbus.
Kudla really made his senior season count for the Buckeyes, earning first team All-Big Ten honors in 2005. During the season Kudla racked up 9.5 sacks, which tied for second in the Big Ten, His senior season performance makes you wonder what kind of Ohio State career that Kudla could have had if he had not been slowed by injuries early in his time in Columbus.
Thaddeus Gibson (2006-2009)
The Euclid, Ohio native originally was recruited to Ohio State as an outside linebacker, but started to see time at defensive end in his sophomore year, in which he recorded five sacks during the year and returned a fumble 69 yards for a touchdown against Michigan State.
In 2009, Gibson's sack numbers dipped a little bit as he only recorded four sacks, but that doesn't mean he wasn't creating havoc behind the line of scrimmage. During his junior season Gibson recorded 13 tackles for loss, which led the Buckeyes for the season. Gibson recorded three sacks in the 38-7 win over Minnesota, which earned him Big Ten player of the week honors.
But The Winners Are...
Will Smith (2000-2003)
Will Smith was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes and was a dominating force on the defensive line during the first few years of Jim Tressel's tenure at Ohio State. Smith's junior season saw the Buckeyes go undefeated and upset Miami in the BCS National Championship game. During the 2002 season Smith was named to the second team All-Big Ten team for recording 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Smith was a key cog on the defense that allowed only two opponents to score over 20 points.
The 2003 season saw Smith add 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss to his career totals for the Buckeyes, earning him a laundry list of accolades for his outstanding senior season. Smith was named to the first team All-America and Big Ten teams, and won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year. Also for his performance during the year, Smith was named a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end.
The Utica, New York native finished up his Ohio State career with 21 sacks, which ranks him among the sack total leaders at Ohio State. Even nearly ten years removed from his Ohio State career ending, Smith is still showing he still has it in the NFL, recording six sacks last season for the Saints.
Vernon Gholston (2005-2007)
Gholston came to Columbus from Cass Tech in Detroit, and was originally recruited as a linebacker before he was seen to be a better fit at defensive end. Gholston's Ohio State career didn't get off to a great start, as he was redshirted in 2005 after breaking his hand in the season opener.
2006 really saw Gholston burst onto the map with 7.5 sacks for the Buckeyes, which helped to earn him second team All-Big Ten honors. 2007 saw Gholston set a couple records for the Buckeyes, registering 14.5 sacks on the season, which broke the previous record for sacks in a season that was set by Mike Vrabel in 1995 with 13 sacks. Also Gholston set the Ohio State record for sacks in a game when he recorded four sacks against Wisconsin. His efforts on the season saw Gholston be named a first team All-Big Ten defensive end along with being recognized as a All American by Pro Football Weekly.
Gholston had 21.5 sacks during his Ohio State career, and it's even more amazing to think that those came in just two years. Had Gholston not left after his junior season to head to the NFL, Mike Vrabel might have had some company at the top of Ohio State's career sacks list.
Who's your choice for best defensive end of the 2000's?