Hankins could reshape defensive line.

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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 08/11/2011 0:59 AM

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Big Hank Could Reshape Defensive Line
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was hard to miss Johnathan Hankins when he showed up at Ohio State last fall.

Jonathan Hankins
Photo by Dan Harker

At 6-3 and close to 350 pounds, Hankins was a massive figure as an 18-year old kid out of Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

A little too massive.

“He played maybe 15 snaps a game last year, but we're going to need a lot more from him,” OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell said.

“I don't know if there's a whole lot that changed about him but he understood the system and being in a program for a year can play longer so you can see more of him.”

Hankins’ weight has been an issue since his days as recruit. Because he came from a Detroit public city school just north of the city, not many teams had come out to scout the big lineman before his senior season.

Jonathan Hankins overwhelms Purdue's ball carrier.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Jonathan Hankins

Ohio State decided to offer a scholarship and they were more than happy to land his services, especially after late offers poured in from Michigan, Alabama and Florida.

When he got on campus, the Buckeyes realized right away that they had come away with a steal in the 2010 recruiting class.

“Going against him in practice every day is a challenge. He’s good, especially for only being a sophomore,” Ohio State’s All-American center Michael Brewster said.

“He’s big but he’s fast. He’s got the feet with the size. He’ll be topnotch.”

Hankins has slimmed down to 335 this fall, according to Fickell, which should allow him to stay on the field for more consecutive plays. 

“Big Hank’s lost some weight. He’s looking better,” Brewster said.

It hasn’t impacted his ability to disrupt the line of scrimmage, something Brewster learned first-hand Tuesday during Ohio State’s second fall practice. The Buckeyes had yet to put on the pads this fall, but that didn’t stop Hankins from bowling over Brewster and left guard Jack Mewhort on the same play.

Plays like that would make Hankins a natural fit to replace Dexter Larimore at the nose tackle position, but he is such a unique player that Ohio State is trying to find different ways to use him this fall.

Garrett Goebel
Photo by John Porentas
Garrett Goebel

With junior John Simon sliding outside to play more strongside defensive end this year, the Buckeyes are hoping that Garrett Goebel will emerge as the new nose tackle, allowing Hankins to play more freely a the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. 

“That's one of the unique situations. Johnathan obviously is a great guy over the nose but Garrett probably plays his best football over the nose,” Fickell said of the redshirt junior from Illinois.

“Does Johnathan move out (to another position) so that you can get your best four guys in there? Those are the things that will be interesting to find out through camp.”

Although Goebel is only listed at 290 pounds on the official roster, he plays much bigger. His background as a state champion wrestler gives him a good foundation for playing with leverage the way Fickell did in his days as a nose guard at Ohio State.

But it has taken Goebel a lot longer to get on the field than people expected. A member of the class of 2008, he was one of the more highly ranked defensive tackle prospect in the country. If he can’t get the job done, the Buckeyes would likely turn to Adam Bellamy.

Adam Bellamy
Photo by John Porentas
Adam Bellamy

“Adam is another guy you've seen things from that he is a big guy, a 305- or 310-pound guy who is every bit as athletic as the 255-pound guys, so he brings a lot of things,” Fickell said of the redshirt sophomore out of Aurora.

“We're excited about him. How that all falls is going to be the key to find out where those guys play.”

Even if Bellamy doesn’t start, he is going to play. His ability to play three positions on the defensive line (everywhere except Leo) has made him the unofficial fifth man in Jim Heacock’s defensive line rotation.

Redshirt freshman J.T. Moore has also been in the rotation this week as the backup Leo, filling in for senior Solomon Thomas, who has been battling a leg injury during the early days of fall camp. Thomas is suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season anyway, which means Moore could solidify himself as a part of the plan defensively.

Of course that plan revolves heavily around what they can get from Hankins in year two.

“We've got to find that happy medium of what our 340-pounder can handle to still be a dominant force,” Fickell said.  

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