COLUMBUS: If Adolphus Washington doesn’t go full-throttle every play, he hears the nonstop barking — and senses the ghost of his predecessor.
The pressure is on all of Ohio State’s defensive linemen as the Buckeyes replace four departed starters. But how would you like to be the guy expected to replace end John Simon, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year who was known for his relentless work ethic on and off the field. Coach Urban Meyer practically wanted to adopt Simon as his second son.
Now fill those shoes, Washington. That, of course, isn’t exactly the truth. No player has to embody the qualities of the player he is succeeding. But standards have been set, and Washington knows he must live up to them.
Talent will not be an issue. Washington, who at 6-foot-3 has bulked up to 290 pounds, has uncommon quickness for a player that size. He and fellow sophomore-to-be Noah Spence have the ability to be beasts on the edge.
Washington made an impact in spot duty last year. Against Michigan, he beat All-America left tackle Taylor Lewan for a fumble-causing sack, one of his three sacks in 2012. But as is often the case with players who were as dominant in high school as Washington was at Cincinnati Taft, it takes time to realize that maximum effort is required on every play in college.
“That was one of my biggest problems last year,” Washington said. “I didn’t go out and play hard every play. Everyone knows that’s what John Simon does.”
As if that ever slips his mind, defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, a former Walsh Jesuit High School and Ohio State standout, is there to remind him.
“Mike Vrabel is coaching the heck out of that kid,” Meyer said. “He doesn’t take a step without hearing Vrabel inside him. The first half of spring I wasn’t buying that stock. I’m buying it now. He’s done a nice job. Adolphus Washington could potentially be a great player at Ohio State.”
Washington is eager to show off his development on Saturday in his hometown when Ohio State plays its spring game at Paul Brown Stadium.
“It’s going to be good to play in an NFL stadium in front of friends and family,” Washington said. “I’ve got a lot of people coming to the game.” Like Meyer, Washington believes he — along with the rest of his linemates — has made significant progress this spring.
“At the beginning, we were kind of unsure about what we were going to do,” Washington said. “But we came out the first couple practices and went at it with the offensive line, and it just built up confidence.”
Washington has the girth to play defensive tackle, and he saw some time there last year.
“He can play inside, but his God-given skills are really well-suited outside,” Vrabel said recently. “He’s got great length. He’s a great basketball player, so he’s a great athlete. He’s everything that you could ask for, and he’s a great kid.”
Such compliments don’t flow so often when he’s on the practice field, Washington said. He’s reminded constantly who he’s replacing.
“They let me know about it every day,” Washington said. “If they see a play when I’m slacking off, they let me know about it.”
But he is confident he’s up to the task, and an improved player who could show only glimpses of his vast potential a year ago.
“My teammates encourage me a lot,” Washington said. “They know I’ve got big shoes to fill and don’t put too much pressure on me, but they push me to get there. I feel I’m a very different player.”
Unsure at right tackle
With only two practices left in the spring, including the first Ohio State spring game at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday in Cincinnati, the competition continues at right tackle. Not that Meyer considers that a good thing.
Asked after practice Wednesday who the starter would be, Taylor Decker or Chase Farris, he didn’t mince words.
“I don’t know yet,” Meyer said. Further, “That’s real bothersome to me. That’s real bothersome to our coaches, too.”
For clarification, Meyer said, “Decker is a guy who is breaking the huddle with the [starters] right now, and he certainly has the ability to be the right tackle.”
But this deep into the spring, Meyer doesn’t have the vibe he would expect from an offensive line that has four starters returning from last season. Left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley and right guard Marcus Hall are seniors who improved from game to game in 2012.
“The offensive line kind of set a nice little standard last year — I felt we were the best offensive line in the Big Ten,” Meyer said. “And as of practice number (13), we’re not right now.”
Linsley has a sore foot, just as he had much of last season, so Meyer has made him watch a lot of practice while Jacoby Boren and Pat Elflein do most of the snapping.
“I pull out Jack Mewhort a little bit once in a while, so we don’t have the chemistry that that group had a year ago,” Meyer said.
Planting the flag
Less than 15 months ago, Kerry Coombs was on the University of Cincinnati coaching staff. Now the cornerbacks coach at Ohio State, he was asked Wednesday what he thought the Bearcats staff and new coach Tommy Tuberville might be thinking, knowing the Buckeyes are coming to town to play a spring game in front of 30,000.
“I would say to you that it would probably be challenging,” Coombs said, smiling. “And I’ll bet it’s more than 30,000. But I would say it would be challenging for us, if I was there, and for many reasons. And I understand that.
“At the same time, we here can’t worry about that. We’re going to take what I consider to be a really, really exciting group of kids to put them in front of folks down there, and I hope they like ’em.”
When told by a reporter from Cincinnati that Tuberville had indicated he might attend, Coombs said, “Great. Maybe we will have him on the sideline. That would be awesome.”