COLUMBUS: It is easy to see who’s gone from the Ohio State defensive line and bemoan how irreplaceable they were.
Finding worthy successors to John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel is a herculean task. It has been 28 years since the Buckeyes have had to replace all of the defensive line starters.
Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel doesn’t minimize the challenge, but he also is hardly panicking about the unit that will take the field this fall.
“I’m always confident that at Ohio State you’re going to find four defensive linemen who are going to be able to go out there and play,” Vrabel said.
He has worthy reasons for that faith. The defensive line might not have much experience, but it has plenty of raw talent. Projected defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were among the headliners of Urban Meyer’s first recruiting class in 2012. Both showed flashes of their potential in part-time action last year. Washington, who has a rare combination of size, speed and power, had three sacks. He looks noticeably thicker than a year ago. Spence, who has rare quickness as an edge-rusher, has bulked up 15 pounds.
“Noah has great ability and takes to coaching, and so do Adolphus and Tommy,” Vrabel said.
Tommy is Tommy Schutt, who will compete with juniors-to-be Michael Bennett and Joel Hale for the starting tackle positions. Add to the mix Steve Miller, J.T. Moore, Chris Carter, converted linebacker Jamal Marcus and freshmen Tyquan Lewis, Tracy Sprinkle and Joey Bosa, and the foundation is in place for solid depth. Lewis and Sprinkle are already enrolled at Ohio State. Bosa is finishing high school.
“We’re definitely going to play a lot of people,” Spence said. “We’re trying to get a good eight. It’s going to be a rotation.”
Hale, who has been a spot player in his first two seasons, said he finds it “very weird” to be thrust into a role as a veteran in the absence of Simon, Hankins, Williams and Goebel.
“We’re not here to replace those great players,” Hale said. “We’re here to be the best we can be to help out Ohio State.”
But Hale sees the benefits of youth.
“The first thing I think about is a lot of fire, a lot of motor within us,” he said. “That’s what you need on the defensive line.”
Vrabel said it can only help his linemen to line up against Ohio State’s experienced offensive line every day in practice.
“It’s tough to compete against those guys,” Vrabel said, “and if we can hold up against those guys, I think it’s going to make us better.”
With almost everyone back on offense and the secondary also having a lot of experience, the defensive line and linebackers will be under the most scrutiny as Ohio State prepares for a season in which it will be regarded as a national championship contender.
“Of course there’s pressure,” Spence said, “but that pushes us to be better.”
Spring game on TV
The Big Ten Network will show the Ohio State spring game April 13 on tape delay at 7 p.m. According to BTN, Ohio State and Michigan scheduled their spring games at 1 p.m. that day and “due to other considerations,” neither was able to move its game to allow for live coverage. The game will be available live on BTN2Go.
An OSU spokesman said that Ohio State has sold 19,000 tickets for the game, which will be played at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati because of maintenance work being done at Ohio Stadium.