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Last updated: 06/27/2011 1:39 PM

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Football
Scouting the Buckeyes: Defense
By Brandon Castel

Ohio State has always been known for sending talent to the next level, but over the last 25 years it has become one of the truly elite NFL breeding grounds, first under John Cooper and then Jim Tressel.

The 2011 Buckeyes will be a team surrounded by controversy but that doesn’t mean NFL teams will stay away from scouting the scarlet and gray under interim head coach Luke Fickell.

Last week The National Football Post turned their scouting microscope on Columbus, where Fickell will have some talented seniors on offense in 2011, even with without quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

The Buckeyes have traditionally been stacked with more pro talent on the other side of the ball, but that does not appear to be the case heading into this fall. Not according to Wes Bunting, who scouted seniors Nathan Williams and Andrew Sweat as potential NFL prospects for the 2012 draft.

WILLIAMS

Although he has produced at the college level, Bunting is not convinced Williams has enough moves to get around offensive tackles at the next level.

“(He) isn’t the type of natural pass rusher many make him out to be,” said Bunting, director of college scouting for the National Football Post.

Nathan Williams
Photo By Jim Davidson
Nathan Williams

“However, he’s a savvy blitzer, finds the football well in all areas of the game and could get looks at either SAM in a 4-3 or as an OLB in a 3-4.”

Williams is a physically imposing player with a chiseled cut and great upper-body strength, but he doesn’t have a set position at the next level; something that could work for or against him in the draft.

“(He) is a hybrid DE/OLB tweener who plays both from a two and three-point stance on the Ohio State defense,” Bunting wrote.

“Displays some savvy as a blitzer and loves to stunt inside. Drops pad level into contact and has some short-area quickness coming forward in order to avoid blockers or will just overwhelm on contact.”

Because of his size and tenacity, Williams can overwhelm collegiate offensive linemen from Indiana, Illinois and Purdue, but he may struggle to have the same kind of impact at the next level, where tackles will gladly use his aggressiveness to push him out outside past the play.

“(He) isn’t a dynamic pass rusher. Isn’t the most natural of benders sitting in his stance, struggles to keep his base under him and pops upright off the snap when trying to reach the edge,” Bunting said of Williams.

“Has an average first step and lacks the fluidity to drop his pad level and accelerate around the corner. Also, lacks ideal lateral fluidity and isn’t much of a threat to counter off his speed rush, more of a linear athlete.”

After replacing Thad Gibson at the Leo DE/OLB hybrid position last fall, Williams did lead the Buckeyes with 4.5 sacks last season. He also had 9.5 tackles for loss, which was third on the team behind Cameron Heyward and Brian Rolle.

“(He) plays with a great motor and has a violent set of hands when trying to disengage,” Bunting wrote.

“His hand usage shows up more vs. the run game. However, he can fend off blocks when engaged and uses the opposing tackles momentum well against him in order to shed and work in pursuit.”

Williams will undoubtedly be a key player on defense for Ohio State this fall as they look to replace Heyward and nose tackle Dexter Larimore from the defensive front. He will have another season to show NFL teams what kind of player he can be, but right now Bunting isn’t sure he projects as a future starter at the next level.

“(He) looks like more like a reserve physically, but he’s the type of overachiever who could fight for playing time down the line,” Bunting said.

“Now, doesn’t have the anchor to hold up consistently vs. offensive linemen in the NFL and isn’t effective breaking down in space as a tackler. But as a potential Sam backer in the NFL I could see him definitely setting the edge and winning vs. tight ends routinely.”

Playing the Leo position, Williams has also been able to show some ability to drop into coverage, but a bigger asset may be his ability to affect the running game.

“Played the run pretty well for his size. Reads and reacts quickly, works endlessly toward the football and seems to always put himself around the action,” Bunting wrote.

“Carries out his assignments well on the outside setting the edge and collapsing inside.”

It was that ability that allowed Williams to recorder 46 tackles last season, five more than linebacker Andrew Sweat.

SWEAT

After playing Sam (strongside) linebacker last season, Sweat moves into a more permanent starting role on the defense this fall. He will take over for Ross Homan at the Will (weakside) linebacker spot, but Bunting doesn’t project him favorably at the next level heading into his senior season.

“A nice college linebacker who simply doesn’t offer enough physically in my mind to warrant a draftable grade,” he wrote.

The biggest knock on Sweat would seem to be his overall athleticism.

Andrew Sweat
Photo by Dan Harker
Andrew Sweat

“A very average size/speed athlete,” Bunting wrote.

“Doesn’t display much range in pursuit, seems to have only one gear and doesn’t have the closing range to routinely make plays off his frame.”

A native of Pennsylvania, Sweat played well last season in his limited time at the Will linebacker spot. Despite his lack of elite athleticism, he would seem to be an ideal candidate to play the position because he naturally finds himself around the football.

“Does a nice job vs. the run game quickly locating the football, picking his way through traffic and flowing toward the action,” Bunting said.

“However, doesn’t generate much snap into contact, more of a drag down guy and if an opposing lineman can get his hands on him the battle is over.”

Because the Sam linebacker comes off the field in favor of the Star LB/DB hybrid during passing situations, Sweat will have to prove himself in pass-coverage situations this fall.

“(He) came off the field routinely vs. the pass game in nickel situations last year when Ross Homan was starting,” Bunting pointed out.

“Generates only average depth in his drop and looks tight trying to redirect and get out of his breaks. Showcases good awareness, has a solid feel for zone coverage and can get early jumps on the football. However, isn’t real rangy in space, struggles to get back up to speed quickly and looks limited when asked to cover a lot of ground.”

The Buckeyes also have some underclassmen who could be considered pro prospects in juniors John Simon, Etienne Sabino and Travis Howard, although none would appear like major flight risks after the 2012 season. Sixth-year senior Tyler Moeller could also project to the next level once he returns to full strength this fall.


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