Nathan Williams was injured in the Ohio State scrimmage over the weekend. For OSU, an injury to a starting defensive lineman is like a kick to the jewels.
Ohio State lost most of their DL rotation from last season. DT Doug Worthington, DT Todd Denlinger, DE's Robert Rose, Thadeous Gibson, and Lawrence Wilson; are all gone.
Initially, there wasn't much concern amongst Buckeye fans because of All-American candidate Cameron Heyward's decision to return for his senior season. His counterpart Nathan Williams is a high-motor sack artist.
Williams is a 6'4" 255 DE that can move. He ran the 100m for his HS track team. Williams is about as talented a new DL starter as you'll find anywhere in the country. If there is one that would compare - it's OSU's new starter at DT, John Simon.
Simon is only 6'2" 270, but he's another high-motor guy. Simon might be the strongest Buckeye since Mike Kudla(565 Bench). It is truly a rare occurrence to see someone as strong and as big as Simon running sideline to sideline with such speed and tenacity. Vegas odds on John Simon hurting someone this season are 1:5, and I'm laying that bet. John might be the hardest working guy in the biz. You better latch onto the guy if you take him down because this guy is going to get back up running at a thousand miles-an-hour, and make the play from the backside. This is a mean, nasty, hard-working DT. Johnny Simon will be a superstar before he leaves Ohio State - write that down with confidence.
The other starter at DT will be Dexter Larimore. Larimore(6'2" 305) would have seen as much time as Worthington and Denlinger last season, but his contribution fell because of an early season knee sprain - the same injury suffered by Williams on Saturday.
Ohio State fans know that the four slated starters make-up one of the best starting DL's in the entire country. The problem with this years DL; there is no depth. Right now, it appears as if the second unit could feature a junior(who has barely seen the field), a true freshman, and two redshirt freshman.
Now, let's not act like Ohio State doesn't recruit well. These young guys have talent, but they don't have any experience at the college level.
In through the door walks 'Big Hank' - wait, he didn't fit.
Johnathon Hankins is 6'3" 335. Hankins' is OSU's young Terrance Cody. He's what the fans have been crying for; a huge defensive tackle with fast reflexes, and quick feet. Originally, the fans and coaches may have expected 'Big Hank' to redshirt. Maybe it's the fact that they don't want to move Heyward down, maybe it's the fact that DT Garrett Goebel isn't looking any better than he did last year, or maybe it's the fact that size in the middle is a concern, but Big Hank's stock is rising quickly.
A month ago the depth chart would have shown rFr. Adam Bellamy(6'4" 300) and Garrett Goebel(6'2" 280) as the back-ups at DT. Right now, it appears as if 'Big Hank' could break into a second-string role - perhaps at the expense of Goebel. Size at the point of attack becomes an even bigger issue when your starting MLB is 5'10" 225.
There are other concerns.
Once upon a time in Columbus; DE was thought to be a land of riches. Ohio State didn't just lose Rose, Gibson, and Wilson. Highly touted DE recruit Jamel Turner was shot twice over the summer. He may never play football again. Georgia Sophmore DE Keith Wells transferred due to a lack of playing time - little did he know. In the past, Ohio State would just move Heyward down to tackle, but with depth issues at DE, Ohio State may be less likely to entertain that option this season.
So. DE Solomon Thomas could get the start against Marshall if Williams is unable to go in the opener.
Cleveland Glenville product Jonathon Newsome will play some at the Leo position. Leo is a hybrid DE position that can place the DE in a 3-point stance, but is usually reserved for 2-point. Newsome is an undersized DE(6'2" 215) that OSU may be looking at moving to OLB.
THe fact remains that Nathan Williams is clearly the number one weakside DE, and no other player will offer the same athleticism for his size.
Ohio State fans can only hope that Williams will be ready to go against the Hurricanes on September 11th. The Buckeyes could be in some trouble if Williams is out in that game. He's probably Ohio State's best pass rusher, and the loss would allow Jacory Harris more time in the pocket to hit his talented receivers.
Redshirt freshman DE Melvin Fellows(6'6" 260) will see loads of time this season. He might have seen time as a true frosh if not for an injury. Fellows has an amazing wingspan, and made huge strides in the weight-room this off-season. Barring injury, Fellows and Thomas will see time in every game this season.
We won't know how good this defense will be until we see how some of these young guys perform. The starters are fantastic, but in football you need depth to overcome injury and fatigue.