The Hankins Impact
Big Hank’s Exit Puts Young Bucks on the Clock
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell knew they were going to have a tough task replacing some of the key players from this 2012 Ohio State defense.
That task just got a whole lot tougher. Or at least a whole lot bigger – 320 pounds bigger to be exact.
Photo by Dan Harker
While it was hardly unexpected, junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins made his decision official on Monday, announcing he will forego his senior season with the Buckeyes for a chance to turn what was once only a dream into a reality.
No one would have blamed Hankins for sticking around to make a run at a BCS national championship next season, but his decision to turn pro seemed like a no-brainer based on where he is being projected for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Hankins didn’t put up big numbers this season as a junior – his tackles for loss actually dropped from 14 a year ago to just five this season – but his impact on the game was unmistakable.
Without him, the Buckeyes will have to replace one of the better defensive tackles in American, along with the three other starters on their defensive line. Senior captain John Simon is the most obvious hole to fill, maybe on the entire team, but Fickell will also be looking at replacements for strongside end Nathan Williams and nose tackle Garrett Goebel.
Add in linebackers Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino, and the 2013 Buckeyes will have six new starters in the front seven, and another on the back end for cornerback Travis Howard.
Next Man Up
Photo by Dan Harker
The Buckeyes lose four starters on the defensive line, but they return a handful of guys with legitimate game experience, including Michael Bennett. The Centerville product will be a junior next season, and was expected to be a starter for the Buckeyes 2012.
A groin injury knocked him out for the first chunk of the season, and he was never really able to get his legs under him the rest of the year. He probably played his best game of the season at Penn State, but then he barely played in the following game against Illinois because of another injury.
Bennett will have to be the leader of the defensive line in 2013, because, well, he just has to be. The other guys coming back will either be sophomores or juniors who haven’t played any more than the sophomores.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With Hankins gone, Bennett may get his start inside at the 3-technique spot where he played most of this season, at least when he was healthy. At 6-3, 285, Bennett also has the ability to play strongside end, but that will probably depend on what happens with Adolphus Washington.
The freshman out of Cincinnati Taft is chasing down 300 pounds with a fury, and the Buckeyes started him off inside, but it was pretty obvious his natural talents were better suited for playing outside, where he could get pressure off the edge.
Assuming Bennett and Washington are first in line for those two spots, another guy who could be in the mix there is fellow freshman Tommy Schutt. A lot of people will look at Schutt as a possible replacement to Goebel at nose tackle, but he was much more of a 3-technique guy for them in 2012.
Photo by Jim Davidson
That could change heading into next year, especially if they get him to add some weight, but the one true nose tackle they have returning for next year is Joel Hale. A native of Greenwood, Ind., Hale will be a junior next year and he was the backup to Goebel at the nose position this year.
The last spot on the line will likely go to 2012 freshman Noah Spence, a pure rush end who really emerged as a regular in Mike Vrabel’s rotation by the end of his rookie season.
Spence was one of the top players in the country coming out of high school, and one of Meyer’s first huge gets as the head coach at Ohio State. He’s perfectly suited to play the Leo/Viper position, but the Buckeyes also have a kid coming in by the name of Tyquan Lewis who looks like a natural fit at the Leo/Viper position as well.
The other scholarship guys returning next season are ends Steve Miller and J.T. Moore, along with redshirt freshman Se’Von Pittman. Miller and Pittman was appear to be the most likely from this group to crack the rotation in the spring, one guy to keep an eye on is big No. 72 Chris Carter.
At 6-4, 340 pounds, Carter is a mammoth of a human being. He moved over from offensive line before the 2012 season and actually showed some promise as a nose tackle during fall camp.
The key with Carter is obviously going to be his weight, along with technique. He dropped a good amount in his first offseason with Mickey Marotti, but he’s in for another rough one if he’s going to get down to a decent playing weight.
Knowing Marotti and this staff, they’re going to put Carter in a fight or flight situation. If he fights, he could be a serious sleeper candidate heading into the fall. If not, he may not be around by then.
Reloading the Trenches
The Buckeyes are going to return a talented bunch next year, but it’s going to be a young group on the defensive line.
Along with Tyquan Lewis, the Buckeyes are also bringing in another supremely talented freshman class for 2013. That group includes blue chip defensive end Joey Bosa out of Florida, 315-pound tackle Michael Hill out of South Carolina, and a trip of guys from Ohio in Tracy Sprinkle, Billy Price and Donovan Munger.
With so much depth on the defensive line, either Price or Munger probably ends up on offense in the long run. Ohio scout John McCallister seems to think Price is the guy who’s better suited for offense, but this group is going to come in hungry for playing time regardless.
Sprinkle, an end out of Elyria, finished his senior season with 103 tackles and 19 sacks, earning Division I All-Ohio honors as the co-defensive player of the year along with Price, a tackle out of Youngstown.
Bosa is the son of former Miami Dolphins first-round pick John Bosa, and the nephew of former Buckeye Eric Kumerow. He was nicknamed “Bane” by his classmates because he bench nearly 500 pounds, and St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo called him the most dominating defensive player he’s ever coached.
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