What Will the Defense Look Like – Part 1
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — There have been a lot of reports this fall about individual performances in practice, but football is a team game.
There will be 11 Buckeyes on the field when Ohio State lines up for its first kickoff against Akron and there will be 11 players on the defense when they take the field for the first time.
But what will this year’s Silver Bullets look like?
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes lose seven starters from their 2010 defense, including some well-known names like Cam Heyward, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan and Chimdi Chekwa.
Up front, the Buckeyes would like nothing more than to develop a 7-8 man rotation on the defensive line. This dates all the way back to Jim Heacock’s time under John Cooper, when he watched Bobby Bowden overwhelm Ohio State’s offense during the 1998 Nokie Sugar Bowl.
Since taking over as OSU’s defensive coordinator in 2005, Heacock has always tried to rotate guys through on the defensive front. His best teams usually start there and work their way back.
“The thing about the defensive line is we want to play eight guys,” OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell said.
“I think that’s what we always stress to our young guys. You’ve got to develop and come along because we can’t be successful unless we’ve got eight guys rolling up front."
The Buckeyes are replacing a four-year starter in Heyward and underappreciated nose tackle Dexter Larimore, but they might have more talent on their defensive line in 2011 than anywhere else on the field.
The First Four
Photo by Jim Davidson
Senior Nathan Williams and junior John Simon are the returning starters, but the most talented player on the defensive line might very well be sophomore Johnathan Hankins. The 330-pound defensive tackle out of Michigan played 15-20 snaps a game as a true freshman last season, but the Buckeyes are expecting a lot more from him in 2011.
“That’s the thing with him, expectations have to be huge for him,” Heacock said.
“He’s a very talented football player. That guy can move, he’s big, he’s quick, he’s reactionary. Everything he does is by reaction. He can get pressure when he wants to, he can play the run.”
At his size, he looks like a natural nose guard, but Hankins is a lot more athletic than anyone would assume at first glance. He moves his feet incredibly well for a guy his size and is excellent at getting off blocks. He has ‘trimmed’ down to 330 pounds this fall, which is the lightest he’s been since his freshman year of high school.
The Buckeyes would like to slide him over to the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. That should allow him to create more plays—both against the run and the pass—than he could make at the nose tackle spot, where he would be drawing constant double-teams.
Because of his size and skill, Hankins will still face some double-teams wherever he is lined up, but a lot of that could depend on the play of Garrett Goebel. Unlike Hankins or Simon, Goebel’s intangibles don’t jump off the page, but the former state wrestling champ is the kind of steady force the Buckeyes like to have at the nose tackle position.
With Goebel and Hankins playing inside, Simon will slide outside to the strong side defensive end position—or 6 technique—this fall. In Ohio State’s defensive scheme, the 6 technique is really comparable to the 3 technique, which is why both positions appear as left and right tackles in the official depth chart.
1st Team D-Line
LT– John Simon
NT- Garrett Goebel
RT – Johnathan Hankins
LEO – Nate Williams
The Fifth Man
Photo by John Porentas
Heacock is famous for liking guys who can play both inside and out—like Heyward and Simon, and before them guys like David Patterson, Darrion Scott and Kenny Peterson. The Buckeyes have a few of those guys on their defensive line this season, but the most important one could be Adam Bellamy.
The redshirt sophomore out of Aurora, Ohio is still competing for a starting spot up front, but more than likely he will settle in as the team’s unofficial ‘fifth man’ on the defensive line.
“Right now I’ve been playing the 6 technique, which is outside-shade of the tackle, and also 3 technique which is like outside-shade of the guard,” Bellamy said.
“They put me in on the goal line too.”
In high school, Bellamy played a lot more outside defensive end, but at 6-4, 302 pounds it only makes sense for him to play both spots.
For those who are unfamiliar with the terms 6 technique and 3 technique, they are used to describe the alignment and responsibilities of a defensive lineman in relation to offensive linemen.
Someone playing the 6 technique, like Simon this year or Heyward last year, would be lined up on the inside shoulder of the tight end or the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle if there is no tight end.
Someone playing the 3 technique, like Simon last year or Hankins this year, would typically be lined up on the outside shoulder of a guard.
Filling Out the Rotation
J. T. Moore
Photo by Jim Davidson
After the top five guys, it becomes a little harder to say for sure who is going to be in the mix this fall, but two guys who look ready to step in are redshirt freshman J.T. Moore and true freshman Michael Bennett.
The Buckeyes probably had plans for both Solomon Thomas and Melvin Fellows to be in there as well, but both have been battling injuries during fall camp.
That is nothing new for Fellows, who has never really recovered from the knee injuries he suffered at Garfield Heights. With his injury history and Thomas being suspended for five games, the Buckeyes will have to look elsewhere to fill out their rotation up front.
Thomas’ absence in particular has opened the door for Moore to step into the mix as the backup to Nathan Williams at the Leo position.
The Leo is Ohio State’s hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position. It allows the Buckeyes to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 without having to change out personnel (which is why the 3-technique and 6-technique are so similar).
Guys who have played the Leo spot in the past include Vernon Gholston and Thad Gibson, which is why Moore is a perfect fit. He doesn’t have elite strength like Gholston or speed like Gibson, but he is a combination of the two. He has good speed down the line and can make plays coming from the backside.
The last time we saw Moore, he was intercepting the first pass of the 2010 Big 33 game. He seems to have a knack for making plays, and that’s what he has shown with the opportunity this fall.
2nd Team D-Line
LT – Adam Bellamy
NT- Evan Blankenship
RT – Michael Bennett
LEO – J.T. Moore
Another young guy who has shown the ability to make plays is Bennett. Like Bellamy, he can play inside or out, which makes him the perfect fit for a Jim Heacock rotation. He has been making a lot of noise in camp, but if he isn’t ready to play, the Buckeyes also have other options like redshirt freshman Darryl Baldwin or true freshman Joel Hale.
Hale arrived in the spring and quickly made a name for himself. He has great strength, but they have to figure out where to best use him. If he can’t play the nose tackle spot, then the last guy in the rotation will be Evan Blankenship.
The senior out of Pennsylvania moved over from the offensive line prior to last season and most people thought they were just looking for a place to stick him until his eligibility expired. However, Blankenship has shown some promise this fall as the backup to Goebel inside and he could give them some depth up the middle.
On the outside, true freshman Steve Miller looks like another guy who is ready to play behind Williams and Moore at the Leo position. Freshmen Kenny Hayes and Chase Farris could also contribute, but they look like they’re a year away.
3rd Team D-Line
LT – Joel Hale
NT- Don Matheney
RT – Darryl Baldwin
LEO – Steve Miller
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