Young front seven a concern

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Last updated: 01/24/2013 6:26 PM

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Football
Young Front Seven at Forefront of Meyer’s Concerns
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — One year ago, Urban Meyer called his defensive line haul “the prize” of his first recruiting class as the head football coach at Ohio State. q

Meyer sold kids like Noah Spence and Se’Von Pittman on the fact the Buckeyes would be losing both starting defensive ends – John Simon and Nathan Williams – after the 2012 season.

“It's a perfect time to come in for a defensive end,” Meyer said last February as he was collecting all the signatures from his 2012 class.

Tommy Schutt
Photo by Jim Davidson
Tommy Schutt

That group also included 4-star defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, a former Penn State commit, and 4-star defensive end Adolphus Washington. The Cincinnati Taft product was largely considered to be the top high school senior in the state of Ohio last year.

Now those four guys will be asked to fill some giant shoes along Ohio State’s defensive front, especially if the Buckeyes are really going to contend with teams like Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oregon for a BCS National Championship in 2013.

“To say that we could go out and beat a team like (Alabama) – first of all I don't want to speculate – but if I was going to give you an honest answer right now, I'd say that we have too many holes to fill,” Meyer said earlier this month.

“For me to say we have to get there next year, that's like talking about we have to go fly to the moon. You know what we have to do? We have to find out who can play defensive line for us. We lost some really good players.”

John Simon
Photo by Jim Davidson
John Simon

Simon was a two-time captain and the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten this past season. He led the entire conference with nine sacks and finished second on the team – and sixth in the conference – in tackles for loss.

The hard-working kid from Youngstown finished with 20.5 sacks and 43 tackles for loss in his four seasons with the Buckeyes. He is a nonstop motor guy who played through a number of injuries this past season, must of which would have sidelined a normal player.

But Simon was anything but normal. He was called the “heart and soul” of Ohio State’s undefeated football season in 2012, and he is one of six guys the Buckeyes must replace in the front seven of their defense from this past season.

“Our defensive line and our linebacker position aren’t stable,” Meyer said.

“We have some stability in the back end. We have the two safeties back and (Bradley) Roby, so it’s three out of four. It’s stable. If you throw the back end in that now, we’re dealing with an unstable defense.”

Along with Simon, the Buckeyes must also replace their three other starters on the defensive line. That includes nose tackle Garrett Goebel – one of the team’s captains this past year – and Nathan Williams, along with junior Johnathan Hankins.

Hankins played so well over the last two seasons that he was able to make a jump to the NFL after his third season in Columbus. His early departure means the Buckeyes will have no seniors on the defensive line next season.

Michael Bennett
Photo by Dan Harker
Michael Bennett

The leader of the group is junior Michael Bennett, a kid out of Centerville who played a decent amount as a freshman in 2011. He was expected to be a starter in 2012, but a lingering groin injury kept him from making much of an impact.

Along with Bennett and those four guys from the 2012 class, defensive line coach Mike Vrabel will also have a handful of other guys competing for playing time on the defensive line.

At the top of that list is Joel Hale, who served as the backup nose tackle this season, and Steve Miller, who saw some playing time at defensive end. Junior J.T. Moore and sophomore Chris Carter could also be in the mix, but Meyer is moving full steam ahead with another crop of talented defensive linemen in the class of 2013.

“To get pressure, you don't want to have to bring five every time,” Meyer said.

“You want to recruit guys that put their tails up in the air and go.”

Defensive ends Tyquan Lewis (4-star) and Tracy Sprinkle (3-star) have already enrolled at Ohio State and could be in the mix for some playing time in the spring. They will be joined by five-star end Joey Bosa, along with a trio of defensive tackles in Michael Hill (4-star), Bill Price (4-star) and, potentially, Donovan Munger (3-star).

The Buckeyes will also add a pair of talented young linebackers in 5-star Mike Mitchell out of Texas and 4-star Trey Johnson out of Georgia. Those two will mesh with a group of returning linebackers that includes starter Ryan Shazier.

The other two spots will be up for grabs in the spring, as defensive coordinator Luke Fickell looks to replace seniors Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino. The names at the top of the list are Joshua Perry and Camren Williams, a pair of second-year guys from Meyer’s first recruiting class.

Williams could get the first crack at replacing Boren inside, although Mitchell might have something to say about that when he gets to Ohio State. David Perkins and Jamal Marcus, a pair of talented young linebackers from the 2012 class, will also be in the mix for that starting Sam linebacker spot.

But a lot will fall on guys like Spence, Schutt and Washington, who came in and found immediate playing time on a really good football team – and rather deep defensive line – this past season.

“They showed that they’re game ready throughout the week in practice, so we have faith in them,” Simon said late in the season.

“I’ve seen them every week in practice and how they’re preparing for games. We definitely have full faith in them and they deserve to be out there.”

Now it’s on them to prove to Meyer and Fickell they deserve to be out there as starters in the fall.

Potential 2013 Depth Chart (Front Seven):

LEO
8 Noah Spence (6-3, 240, So.)
88 Steve Miller (6-3, 255, Jr.)
Tyquan Lewis (6-3, 225, Fr.)

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
63 Michael Bennett (6-3, 285, Jr.)
95 Se’Von Pittman (6-3, 265, rFr.)
Billy Price (6-4, 280, Fr.)
Donovan Munger (6-4, 290, Fr.)

NOSE TACKLE
51 Joel Hale (6-4, 295, Jr..) OR
90 Tommy Schutt (6-2, 305, So.)
72 Chris Carter (6-4, 358, rSo.)
Michael Hill (6-3, 315, Fr.)

STRONGSIDE END
92 Adolphus Washington (6-3, 289, So.)
Joey Bosa (6-5, 270, Fr.)
50 J.T. Moore (6-3, 250, rJr.)
Tracy Sprinkle (6-4, 245, Fr.)

WILL LB
10 Ryan Shazier (6-1, 226, Jr.)
25 David Perkins (6-2, 220, So.)
Trey Johnson (6-1, 220, Fr.)

MIKE LB
5 Camren Williams (6-1, 225, So.)
Mike Mitchell (6-4, 225, Fr.)
42 Luke Roberts (6-1, 226, rFr.)

SAM LB
15 Josh Perry (6-4, 231, So.)
14 Curtis Grant (6-2, 235, Jr.)
34 Jamal Marcus (6-2, 225,Sor.)

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