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Last updated: 02/06/2012 2:59 PM

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Football
Buckeyes Putting Together Their Own “NASCAR Package”
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Wherever he was Sunday night, Urban Meyer likely had a big smile on his face.

Not because of the outcome.

Meyer was undoubtedly pulling for his friend, Bill Belichick, and former star player, Aaron Hernandez—both of whom came up on the losing end of Super Bowl XLVI.

The Giants won, 21-17, over the Patriots, and quarterback Eli Manning was named Super Bowl MVP. He should have shared it with at least three of his teammates.

While it was Manning who led New York on a 76-yard touchdown drive to win the game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, it was the Giants defensive line that controlled Tom Brady and a deadly New England offense in a league that has somehow become short on defense.

Manning and his receivers will get much of the credit for another title run in New York, but it was the trio of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul that helped the Giants run through the Jets, Falcons, Packers and Patriots on their way to another championship.

That should have Meyer smiling after Ohio State landed three of the top defensive end prospects in the country on National Signing Day last week.

“I call them thе prize οf thе recruiting class,” said Meyer, who won his first BCS National Title at Florida behind a swarming defensive front.

While they are not exactly as proven as New York’s trio of Umenyiora, Tuck and Pierre-Paul, Meyer believes Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence and Se’Von Pittman could all have a future playing at the professional level some day.

“We try to evaluate that group of defensive ends, are those guys going to make a living (playing) pro football,” Meyer asked rhetorically on Signing Day.

“If they are, that's a pretty good indication that they're going to play very well here.”

Both Scout.com and Rivals.com ranked Washington, Spence and Pittman among the top-10 defensive ends in the country, with Spence and Washington ranking among the top players in the class at any position.

Meyer loves the versatility in this group, but the one common denominator among all three of his new ends is speed.

“They're all different in their own right. Noah Spence is probably little bit more of a linebacker size, 230, 240 pounds, probably a guy that is a true speed guy,” said Luke Fickell, Ohio State’s former interim head coach, now defensive coordinator under Meyer.

“The thing you see with Se'Von and Adolphus is the versatility.  Everybody wants to be an end, wants to be a rush guy. I think that's one of the things we had to focus on, is finding guys with speed. They do have that. Who knows in a year or two exactly what they'll do.”

Meyer compared Spence, who will likely play the weakside LEO spot on OSU’s defensive line, to a guy he coached at Florida. One that Ohio State fans will remember all-to-well.

“He's different than (Derrick) Harvey. Probably more like (Jarvis) Moss,” Meyer said.

“A slender, high‑cut athlete. Harvey was more of an Adolphus Washington type. Strong, bull‑rusher type player.”

That duo of Harvey and Moss led a relentless assault against Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith in the 2006 BCS Title Game. Ohio State fans could only watch in horror as they combined for five sacks and twice as many hurries against an OSU offensive line that was simply overmatched by the speed on Florida’s defensive front.

“You talk about Florida. There's defensive linemen all over the place,” Meyer said.

“We have a few here. Defensive line is our strength. Ohio State's tradition is a big part of why those kids came, too. To be a part of what's been done here for the last 10 years.  I looked at it one time. The last 10 years, we are in the top 10 in defense almost every year. We coached against Ohio State. It's traditionally a strong defensive line unit.”

It was on the strength of their defensive front—and with a little help from guys named Clarett, Gamble and Krenzel—that Ohio State won its first National Title in 34 years back in 2002.

That defense, coached by Mark Dantonio, was led by future Pro Bowler Will Smith, who anchored a defensive line that also included Kenny Peterson, Tim Anderson and Darrion Scott.

That was nearly 10 years ago, but former defensive coordinator Jim Heacock had some pretty dominant defensive lines of his own, especially in 2009-10, but there was a dramatic dropoff for the Buckeyes in 2011.

“The area we didn't have it, I think that's why these kids wanted to come, we're down in sacks,” Meyer said.

“You don't want to have to blitz every time you want pressure. Coach Fickell and I talked. To get pressure, you don't want to have to bring five every time. You want to recruit guys that put their tails up in the air and go.”

The Buckeyes have one of those guys coming back in John Simon, who was an All-Big Ten defensive lineman in 2011 despite playing out of position most of the season. They could have another if Nathan Williams can return from micro-fracture knee surgery, but there is a real opportunity for Washington, Spence and Pittman to play right away.   

“Simon and Nate Williams are going to be gone,” Meyer pointed out.

“They're seniors. We have them one more year. It's a perfect time to come in for a defensive end.”

Olentangy linebacker Josh Perry is another guy from this class who could help with depth on the defensive line. He is listed at 6-3, 230 on Ohio State’s official roster, but Meyer said he has already added some bulk since enrolling in January.

He is a guy who could play the LEO spot along with Spence and sophomore Steve Miller, a high school teammate of Pittman’s at Canton McKinley.

“Se'Von Pittman is a guy who is a 225-pound guy, a junior in high school that looked like an outside backer type of guy, now is 265-pound guy that is continuing to grow,” Fickell said. 

“Noah being a true outside guy, then Adolphus and Se'Von being guys with great versatility that can be able to play the field or boundary side end, I think the versatility is the thing you like best.”

The Buckeyes also signed a true inside guy in 300-pound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, but the real star of the class could be Washington.

“Adolphus Washington, he's a guy that plays basketball probably nine months out of the year and only football for a few months,” Fickell explained.

“So what his potential is when he hits the weight room, gets down to one sport, he's a 250-pound guy right now. Who knows what he'll look like in a year or two.”

The same can be said for this defensive line. No one knows for sure what it will look like in a year or two—which of these new guys will struggle or which will blossom into full-blown stars.

History suggests not all of them will make the cut, but it should be fun to watch.

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