Most Important Buckeyes: No. 11
By Tony Gerdeman
Photo by Dan Harker
When Noah Spence took the field this spring at defensive end, he was consistently one of the brightest spots on the entire team. He was difficult to block, and the speed with which he took the edge was something that Ohio State hasn't seen in some time.
When Spence signed with Ohio State, following just three weeks of recruiting by Urban Meyer, everyone was excited for the five-star prospect. Fortunately for Spence, he was able to learn behind seniors like John Simon and Nathan Williams.
Playing the Leo position at Ohio State isn't just about pass rushing, and Spence found that out last season when he was admittedly lost at times while on the field.
Now, there's no where for Spence to hide. He has to know this defense, and that's what he spent his offseason working on. He recorded a sack in his first career game last season, but then never recorded another one. He can't afford to be silent this season if the Buckeyes are going to challenge for a Big Ten Championship.
What Makes Him Important
A defense that disrupts a quarterback is a defense that wins more often than it loses. Even though that won't be his only duty, Noah Spence will be responsible for a great deal of that disruption.
As the team's pass rush specialist, Spence will be expected to be a special pass rusher. He has certainly shown explosion and potential, but it's going to be incredibly interesting to finally see him attacking somebody other than Jack Mewhort or Taylor Decker.
If he is the player that he is expected to be, he will make every level of defense behind him better. If the quarterback doesn't have time to throw the ball, then the rest of the defense can hide any glaring flaws that they may have.
However, if he is still a year away, then the defense will struggle because the person playing Leo has to be a disruptor. If the Leo isn't getting after the quarterback, or showing versatility in zone blitzes, then the defense will be missing a vital component that it was counting on.
What Can Be Expected Of Him
Last season, in his limited run, Spence was a split second away from getting to the quarterback at least a half dozen times. However, that split second is what separates great players from everyone else.
The goal this offseason was to eliminate that split second and become a consistent pass rusher, as well as a more well-rounded run stopper. Everything looked fantastic this spring, but we still have to see it on the field before he can be chalked up as a sure-fire world beater.
The Buckeyes haven't had a major sack-producing Leo for years. John Simon notched seven sacks there in 2011, but he was playing out of position. Thaddeus Gibson and Nathan Williams never produced as much as had been hoped, though they were asked to do an awful lot.
Now, Spence will be asked to do those other things as well. But everyone will agree that if he is only producing 4.5 sacks like those in the past, that would be considered a disappointment.
What Would the Buckeyes Do Without Him
Without Spence, the Buckeyes would be looking at sophomore Jamal Marcus, who has only been a collegiate defensive end for about 10 months. Marcus was very impressive this spring when it came to pass rushing, but who knows where he stands when it comes to everything else that the position requires.
If not Marcus, then perhaps junior Steve Miller, who was once a five-star recruit, but has yet to find his place on this defensive line. He is probably not athletic enough for Urban Meyer's liking at Leo, but he has a better understanding of the defense as a whole.
There is also true freshman Tyquan Lewis, who took part in spring football. However, expecting a freshman defensive end to do anything other than put his head down and go is probably a losing plan.
There are a few possibilities here, but none of them are as promising as Noah Spence, whom Urban Meyer is expecting to be the player that he knows he can become.
The time is now for Spence, and the Buckeyes need him to be ready.
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