2012 Buckeye Rewind - Defensive Ends
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A slew of possibilities existed prior to the season when it came to the Ohio State defensive ends. John Simon was the known quantity, Adam Bellamy was just reaching his potential, Michael Bennett was one of the four best defensive linemen on the team, and proven veteran Nathan Williams was the wildcard.
Oh, and Urban Meyer also just happened to bring in three of the nation's best defensive end recruits to an already crowded party. If football games are won up front, Meyer wasn't interested in taking any chances in losing those battles in the trenches.
Expectations Coming Into The Season
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State's wealth of defensive end talent was seen as a good problem to have. There was so much depth, in fact, that Nathan Williams, he of 1.5 fewer sacks in his career than John Simon, was seen as an afterthought.
Expectations for Williams were cautiously optimistic as he returned from microfracture surgery. Possibilities were spoken of in hopeful tones, but never once was the fate of this team put on the possibility of Williams making it to the field.
The expectations for Simon were much different. He needed to be a leader for this team, and Meyer had every belief that he would be. There was no doubt from anyone around the program that Simon would give everything that he had to do whatever he could for this team.
With Williams' health keeping him a question mark, the thought was that the other defensive end spot would come down to the incumbent Bellamy, who started 10 games in Williams' absence in 2011, and Bennett, who was a very disruptive freshman the year before.
Bellamy spent the preseason on the receiving end of Mike Vrabel's bluntness, and eventually left the team. Bennett, who was named one of the four best defensive linemen by Meyer, was figured to have won the spot opposite Simon.
There was also the small matter of freshman Noah Spence, who showed tremendous quickness in practice. Just a rookie, Spence brought a certain excitement level with him.
How the Season Played Out
Things started out well enough for the Buckeyes, with the most promising note being that Nathan Williams was healthy enough to play in the season opener. Perhaps more encouragingly, Spence recorded his first sack as a collegian. Unfortunately, it would also be his last sack of the season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Simon, who was the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year, finished the season with a conference-best nine sacks, had only three sacks through the first eight games of the season. Obviously, he closed strong.
Spence played frequently, but never again got to a quarterback, though he was just a step or two away a number of times. Williams finished with two sacks in 10 games. Like Spence, he was close to adding a few more, but he was still disruptive.
In reality, the defense was missing two of it's top five defensive linemen, with Bellamy leaving and Bennett suffering his groin injury. They were never quite able to make up for those two losses.
What Should We Expect in 2013
Expectations for 2013 could be all over the board. The Buckeyes will be breaking in an entirely new defensive line, and exactly which players will be lining up at defensive end is likely still evolving.
The one player that we know will likely be starting from day one will be Noah Spence at the Leo position. The other side will depend on whether or not Adolphus Washington is a defensive tackle or a strongside defensive end. Michael Bennett will also figure in here as well. It's likely that both players will be on the field, but who will play where? It would not be a surprise to see them both mix inside and outside.
Steve Miller will also be in the picture. He has too much athleticism not to. Redshirt freshman Se'von Pittman will also garner a look. He was also bothered by an injury this past season, so he never really got to show his best. He will have to change that moving forward.
There is also the likelihood that a linebacker or two may move to the Leo spot as well. It appears that Jamal Marcus was already getting work there towards the end of the season. It is probably a more natural position for him.
Like last season, Meyer has once again loaded up the defensive line recruiting, bringing in defensive ends Tyquan Lewis, Joey Bosa and Tracy Sprinkle. Bosa and Sprinkle are already built like college strongside ends, and could very easily grow into three-technique defensive tackles. Like Washington and Bennett, they may float back and forth as ability allows.
There are high expectations for Spence and Washington/Bennett, but productive depth needs to emerge or else the starters will wear down as the season grows.
There is a ton of promise for Ohio State's starting defensive ends in 2013, whomever they may end up being. But there will be nobody at defensive end to start the season who could be considered a proven player.
People around the program are excited to see what Spence and Washington can do as full-time players. They have unlimited potential and unlimited motors. While the two starting spots are assumed to be locked up, there are a ton of minutes still up for grab for anybody on the 2013 roster to snag, and that includes freshmen.
If a player is good enough, it doesn't matter how old he is. It only matters that he produces when he is on the field. That's what the coaches will be looking for in 2013, and right now it's too early to say if they'll find as much as they're hoping for.
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