Spence Already Making His Presence Felt
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes already have an All-American candidate at defensive end heading into the 2012 season. They could add a second if senior Nathan Williams can come all the way back from his microfracture knee surgery.
Photo by Jim Davidson
So why is everyone talking about Noah Spence?
The 5-star defensive end out of Harrisburg, Pa. was hot commodity in the class of 2012, but he hasn’t looked much like a freshman this fall. At least not according to the guys he’s been going against in his first month of practices at Ohio State.
“Noah Spence has really stepped up as a freshman,” senior right tackle Reid Fragel said on the last day of two-a-day practices.
“He’s very quick off the edge. I think he’ll be a special player in the future. Watching a young freshman like that develop is interesting to see.”
Spence was one of the best high school players in America last year. The Bishop McDevitt product was an Under Armour All-American, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania and a Parade Magazine All-American.
At 6-3 and 240 pounds, Spence was as physically gifted as any defensive lineman in the country, and one of the first prospects Urban Meyer called after he officially took the head-coaching job at Ohio State last November.
Photo by Dan Harker
“He probably has more athletic ability than any of us on the defensive line,” said senior captain John Simon.
“He’s very gifted and very determined.”
Simon – considered to be one of the premier defensive ends in the Big Ten if not the country – roomed with Spence during fall camp. The two have spent a lot of time together, with Simon attempting to teach the youngster the ins and outs of playing the Leo/Viper position at Ohio State.
“It’s a little tough, but when you have people like John helping you with the plays, it’s becoming better,” Spence said during camp.
“In high school you can do a lot of stuff. You can get by with almost anything, but up here you have to use your technique.”
Not everyone can get by with “almost anything,” even at the high school level, but Spence is special. He racked up 204 tackles and 35.5 sacks during his final two seasons at Bishop McDevitt, but Spence didn’t just bring people down behind the line of scrimmage, he tracked them down and dropped them deep in the backfield.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Last season Spence racked up over 100 negative yards on sacks alone. His speed has been a huge adjustment for fellow youngsters on the opposite side of the ball, youngsters like offensive tackle Kyle Dodson.
“It was a huge adjustment going against him,” said Dodson, a 4-star tackle out of Cleveland Heights.
“I’ve never faced a D-end that fast. I’ve learned I have to get lighter on my feet with Noah, but with bigger linemen like Se’Von Pittman I get heavier on my feet.”
Pittman is another talented young freshman on Ohio State’s defensive line. There are four of them this fall, with Spence and Pittman vying for spots in the rotation along with Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt.
All of them have had their moments, but Spence has been the one guy whose talent simply cannot be denied, even amongst his classmates.
“He’s very quick off the edge and he goes hard every play,” said Washington, another standout pass rusher who has been playing inside at defensive tackle.
“He competes, no matter who it is; it could be a senior, he’s going to go at them like a freshman. He competes every day.”
That fact has not escaped Ohio State’s head football coach, who brought Spence to Columbus because he knew the Buckeyes were in desperate need of a pass rush after finishing 70th in the country – and sixth in the Big Ten – in sacks a year ago.
“You always wish it would happen a little faster, but Noah Spence is a little bit ahead of them,” Meyer said recently when asked about his young defensive linemen.
Spence opened fall camp as the No. 3 guy at the Leo spot, behind both Simon and Steve Miller, but indications are he has jumped into the permanent rotation at that position. He has been repping with the second-string defensive line for much of camp, and he is the one guy (other than Nathan Williams) who has the true size and athleticism to play the Viper/Leo spot – a hybrid position which asks a player to be both an outside linebacker and rush end, depending on what defense is called.
“He’s a monster off the edge. Nobody can block him, especially not for an entire game,” said teammate – and roommate – David Perkins.
“That’s not going to happen anyway. He’s good against the run. He’s got a good under move. He flips his hips and gets around linemen really well. He’s fast. That’s probably his biggest asset. He’s 245, but he’s…I wouldn’t say he’s as fast as me, but he’s got some speed. He’s explosive.”
Other Ohio State players have seen enough in Spence this fall to realize he’s ready to make an impact right now. He still has a lot to learn, but defensive line coach Mike Vrabel is putting his star freshman through a crash course in order to get him ready for the season-opener on Sept. 1.
“It’s interesting because coach Vrabel was coaching him up, telling him to work certain moves, telling him to fake outside and jab inside,” Fragel said.
“We see him getting coached up by coach Vrabes, but we also talk to him on the side and tell him what certain looks mean and what we’re trying to do.”
Spence is used to being the fastest guy on the field. In high school, there weren’t many offensive tackles who could keep him from getting around the edge, but college is different.
That’s why Spence’s teammates are trying to help him build on what already comes so naturally.
“The offensive line is teaching me a lot,” he said.
“When we do one-on-one drills, they tell me to counter my moves. I’m used to just coming off the edge with speed, but they’re teaching me to go inside more and use my strength more.”
He used it against them in the team’s scrimmage this past Saturday. According to reports, Spence came off the edge two plays in a row to sack quarterback Braxton Miller in the backfield, despite the fact he was going against the first-team offensive line.
Maybe now they’re sorry they helped him. Then again, camp is over, which means Spence will finally get a chance to use those moves against someone else for a change.
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