Bennett Poised for Breakout Season

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Last updated: 06/18/2012 6:42 PM

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Bennett Not Fazed by Spot on Depth Chart

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Michael Bennett was one of the most coveted players on the defensive side of the ball in the class of 2011.

Michael Bennett
Photo by Dan Harker
Michael Bennet

He was also one of the top performers at Ohio State during the spring. After just one season of college football, the sophomore out of Centerville had worked his way onto the top defensive unit for the Buckeyes.

It looked like he was primed for a breakout season in year No. 2, but that’s not what the depth chart showed when the dust settled from Urban Meyer’s first spring at Ohio State.

“Michael Bennett has only been here a year,” Meyer said after listing him as a backup at defensive

“I know we have him listed with Johnathan Hankins as a backup. That may not necessarily be the case this fall. We will rotate him in and our four best guys will be on the field at one time. It’s hard for me to say he’s not one of our four best.”

That had to be the way Bennett felt as well, especially after performing so well in the spring. He started out a second-team guy behind junior Adam Bellamy, but it was only handful of practices before the 6-3, 277-pound Bennett was working with the first group.

“It feels good to work up to that,” he said.

“It is a sense of accomplishment. It’s not a set position. I have to come in here and earn it. I want to be a big contributor to the team. I want to make plays and do whatever I can.”

Bennett tallied 17 tackles, five tackles-for-loss and three sacks as a key part of Ohio State’s defensive rotation last season. With Nathan Williams out, Bennett played a lot of strongside end as a freshman last season, which allowed John Simon to slide over and play the Leo position.

That was a position Ohio State severely lacked after the injury to Williams early in the year. Then-defensive coordinator Jim Heacock tried J.T. Moore and freshman Steve Miller, but nothing quite seemed to work.

The Buckeyes were forced to play basically four defensive tackles up front, with Simon, a guy who had played inside as a sophomore, playing the pass-rushing end spot. Bennett and Bellamy took most of the reps on the other side, with Hankins and Garrett Goebel inside, but Bennett isn’t going to start worrying about his spot.

“You just have to take it for what it is,” he said of being listed as a backup.

“If I’m on the second team, then they put me there for a reason. They have a plan for it. It gives me a reason to work hard.”

One thing about Bennett that makes him an attractive option for the coaches is his versatility. Like Cameron Heyward and a few others, Bennett is big enough to play inside or fast enough to play outside.

Another reason Bennett is an intriguing option for first-year line coach Mike Vrabel is the fact he wasn’t really healthy as a freshman last season.

“Last year, a lot of it had to do with the fact my left arm was not as strong,” said Bennett, who broke his arm during the U.S. Army All-American Game down in San Antonio.

“I couldn’t build up my strength. I had a brace on it all last year. It hurt when I got hit.”

There was some concern Bennett wouldn’t even be ready for the start of fall camp after suffering the break in January, but he was determined to make an impact as a freshman. It’s a good thing, too, because they needed him.

A year later, Bennett is looking forward to a healthy sophomore campaign with the Buckeyes.

“This spring, I was able to go without the brace and it was fine,” he said.

“I’m not thinking about it all.”

With the return of Simon — and possibly Williams, who is still working his way back from microfracture knee surgery — the Buckeyes should be even better up front in 2012. There only departure was Solomon Thomas, a backup end who missed the first half of last season due to suspension.

The Buckeyes added freshman defensive end Se’Von Pittman to the mix in the spring. He was limited by a knee injury, but should be ready for the start of fall camp. They will also add a pair of unique pass rushers this summer in Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but Bennett knows they are only going to be as good as the work they put in.

“You have to come in every day and not just to lift for an hour. You have to lift and go off with the linemen and do work on some drills for an hour and then get treatment for an hour,” he said.

“It’s an off-season, but it should still be three or four hours of work a day.”

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