Practice Insider: Fickell Building Up Front

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Last updated: 08/21/2012 4:45 PM

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Fall Practice Insider: Fickell Building Defense Up Front

By Brandon Castel

Luke Fickell
Photo by Jim Davidson
Luke Fickell

COLUMBUS — Still displaying a bristly beard – the product of time spent away from his family not a new fashion statement – Luke Fickell walked right past a group of reporters who were interviewing Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman on Tuesday.

Ohio State’s defensive coordinator was scheduled to meet with the media after practice, but there was something more pressing that demanded his immediate attention.

“I have a meeting with the boss,” Fickell said as he disappeared behind a door inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

A year ago, Fickell was the boss.  Now he’s coaching the defense as a part of Urban Meyer’s system, but Fickell said Meyer is always trying to figure out ways to help the defense get better during practice.

According to Fickell, it all starts up front with guys like John Simon and Johnathan Hankins.

Simon Sneaking to Practice?

If John Simon misses another day of practice, it will only be because someone hid is helmet, and his cleats, and his pads. Even that might not stop him.

John Simon
Photo by Jim Davidson
John Simon

The senior defensive end was purposely held back during some practices in the spring, and he wasn’t about to let a minor ankle injury keep him off the field Tuesday. So the coaches had to force him to miss a practice during the morning session, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t try to sneak back out there towards the end.

Simon was wearing a minor air splint on his left ankle, but said he would have practiced Tuesday if the coaches had let him. He called the injury very minor and said he expects to return to practice on Wednesday.

Fickell said he knows what Simon can do inside Ohio Stadium, in front of 105,000 fans, so it’s always good to get some other guys a chance to practice with the first-team defense.

Michael Bennett also missed practice Tuesday – he was out there in a green jersey but didn’t participate – which opened the door for Steve Miller and J.T. Moore to get some work with the first-team defense. Freshman Noah Spence also reportedly got a few reps with the ones.

Spence and Washington Biting…Hard

Fickell said he would like to rotate eight or nine guys up front on the defensive line, and it sounds like that will include freshmen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.

Adolphus Washington
Photo by Jim Davidson
Adolphus Washington

Just about everyone on both sides of the ball has mentioned Spence as a guy who looks ready to play, and now even Fickell is talking like both guys are going to be in his rotation up front.

“We know we’re going to play those guys,” he said Tuesday, “at some point in time, we’ve got to figure out how much.”

Starting defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins raved about both of them, but especially Washington, who has been playing behind Big Hank at the 3-technique spot. Hankins said Washington is a tremendous pass-rusher, especially now that he has improved his technique.

No More Stripe for Burger

Joe Burger
Photo by Jim Davidson
Joe Burger

Fickell mentioned linebacker Joshua Perry as another rookie who could step in and help them on defense this year, along with linebackers Camren Williams and David Perkins.

All of them still have work to do, however, as walk-on Joe Burger became the first freshman linebacker to have his black stripe removed. It happened after practice Tuesday, making Burger the 8th freshman to be de-striped this fall (Cardale Jones and Warren Ball both had theirs removed Monday).

If nothing else, Fickell said, it proves star ratings and high school accolades don’t mean a whole lot once the players get on campus at Ohio State.

Nickel and Diming

Safety C.J. Barnett mentioned Spence and Devan Bogard as the two freshmen he expects to see on the field this fall. Bogard is a safety out of Glenville who will get a chance to play the “Star” (nickel back) position for the Buckeyes this fall.

Devin Bogard
Photo by Jim Davidson
Devin Bogard

He was working as the No. 2 guy at that position Tuesday, with junior Corey Brown playing “Star” with the first-team defense. It appears they feel content leaving Christian Bryant on the back end, which would allow them to get a guy like Brown or Bogard on the field.

When that happens, it looks like Curtis Grant will be the guy who comes off, or at least that’s how it was Tuesday. Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino stayed out there in Nickel with Corey Brown, while Grant lined up next to Conner Crowell when the second-team defense went to nickel.

Big Man in the Middle

Barnett says middle linebacker Curtis Grant doesn’t necessarily have to be “the leader” of the defense this year because the Buckeyes have so many other leaders on defense.

One of them is nose tackle Garrett Goebel.

Simon, Hankins and Fickell all raved about Goebel's importance to the defense, saying he does the “dirty work” for them in the trenches. Fickell, being a former nose guard himself, smiled big when asked about Goebel being a captain and said he was thrilled to see him honored that way.

Hankins said he knew all year Goebel would be a captain because he has been taking on more of a leadership role, and also because Ohio State’s defense wouldn't work without a guy like Goebel. He allows everyone else to do their job by taking on the double teams inside.

Depth Charting Tuesday’s Practice

We didn’t get to watch the scrimmage portion of practice Tuesday, but here is a look at the depth chart (in nickel) while the Buckeyes were warming up. Remember, Simon and Bennett were both sidelined by minor injuries, so they are not on this depth chart.

88 Steve Miller (6-3, 255, So.)
8 Noah Spence (6-3, 240, Fr.)

52 Johnathan Hankins (6-4, 317, Jr.)
92 Adolphus Washington (6-3, 289, Fr.)

53 Garrett Goebel (6-4, 285, rSr.)
51 Joel Hale (6-4, 295, So.)

50 J.T. Moore (6-3, 250, rSo.)
95 Se’Von Pittman (6-3, 259, Fr.)

10 Ryan Shazier (6-1, 226, So.)
14 Curtis Grant (6-2, 235, So.)

6 Etienne Sabino (6-3, 237, rSr.)
36 Connor Crowell (6-1, 233, rFr.)

3 Corey Brown (6-1, 197, rJr.)
30 Devan Bogard (6-0, 291, Fr.)

1 Bradley Roby (5-11, 185 rSo.)
9 Adam Griffin (5-8, 180, rSo.)

7 Travis Howard (6-1, 196, rSr.)
12 Doran Grant (5-11, 188, So.)

2 Christian Bryant (5-10, 190, Jr.)
19 Orhian Johnson (6-3, 210, rSr.)

4 C.J. Barnett (6-1, 202, rJr.)
28 Ron Tanner (6-0, 192, rFr.)

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