Concerns at defensive tackle

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Last updated: 04/17/2013 2:44 AM
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Reader Mail: Concerns at Defensive Tackle
By Tony Gerdeman

I get emails every day. Some of them are even Buckeye related. This weekend I got an email about a topic that hasn't been talked about much, but absolutely should be, so I thought I'd go ahead and turn it into a reader mail piece. (Note: I have removed all of the accurate compliments as to my personal abilities. Though I will probably turn that into a separate column or four very soon.)

I know you know the coaches know defensive tackle is our likely Achilles heel. I listened to an SEC coach say: 'You recruit from the ball out. The difference between the SEC and everyone else is the linemen. You get big, mean, athletic, linemen, then a quarterback. Everyone else becomes somewhat plug-and-play.'

Would you mind putting your thoughts to paper about our DT situation. Bennett is too small and admits it's a problem. When he said he will rely on quickness, I heard 'I'm going to get owned by Michigan, Wisconsin, and Alabama.'

(People make fun of Hoke having too many linemen, but his evil SEC copycat plan should not be taken lightly.)

I rarely hear the name Joel Hale and have never heard anything positive. What's his story? Does Hale work hard, does he have talent? Is Carter a slacker? Is Tommy Schutt soft? Would Hill and Munger be boys vs men if they play as freshmen?

-- James T.

Let's tackle this from the top. As I look at the Buckeyes unit by unit, I would agree that the loomingest questions reside at defensive tackle. However, since we're talking about the SEC, you might be pleased to know that every player that you're asking about (except for Chris Carter), had SEC offers. That also includes incoming freshman Billy Price, who went unmentioned.

I agree that one of the major differences between the SEC and everybody else is the inside-out approach to recruiting. Another of the major differences between the SEC and everybody else is the lengths that they will go to land those recruits. (Read into that whatever you like, your imagination can't get crazier than real life in the SEC.)

Michael Bennett
Photo by Jim Davidson
Michael Bennett

Yes, Michael Bennett considers himself undersized, which he is compared to Johnathan Hankins. But let's keep in mind that he is still 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds. He may end up being one of the lighter defensive tackles in the Big Ten, but not by a lot.

Do I think he could wear down over the course of an entire season? Sure. But I think anybody can wear down. Alabama and Florida both liked Bennett enough to offer him. He would have likely ended up at defensive end at both places, which he has also played at Ohio State.

The thing to keep in mind is that what he will be giving up in bulk, he will be making up for in quickness and speed. I really have no concerns about Bennett's pass rush, but I agree that there have to be concerns about his ability to hold up against the run for 14 games.

Regarding Joel Hale, while there hasn't been a lot of talk from the media about him, there has been quite a bit of talk from his coaches and teammates about his leadership abilities. Hale was an early enrollee in 2011, so he's practically a junior-and-a-half by now.

Joel Hale
Photo by Jim Davidson
Joel Hale

When he first got to Ohio State, they even put him at strongside defensive end at times. Now, however, it looks like he has the inside track to be the starting nose tackle. He hasn't gotten a ton of minutes, but as shaky as last season's defense was, it's hard to blame Mike Vrabel for wanting to keep Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins on the field as much as possible.

Hale, who had an offer from Florida, had a very nice play in the Spring Game when he collapsed the pocket against Andrew Norwell and forced Braxton Miller into the arms of Adolphus Washington, so there is talent there.

Being a nose tackle, however, you're not going to hear much about him. How much did you hear about Garrett Goebel or Dexter Larimore or Todd Denlinger? That being said, we really have no idea how he is going to perform. What we do know is that he's a veteran in a very young room. He has the right mentality. The physicality and talent now have to match it.

Chris Carter
Photo by Jim Davidson
Chris Carter

Moving on to Chris Carter, I used to think that he may be a slacker, but then I realized that it was just gravity pulling him down. Right now there's less of him to pull down, and so he's making some plays. Granted, he doesn't generally make them twice in a row. However, he is completely capable of collapsing the middle of the line of scrimmage on any given snap.

The impressive thing for me, however, is that he also pursues. I saw him tackle Warren Ball 35 yards downfield during a practice. If Mike Rice was his coach, there would have been no balls thrown at him following that play. He can also run down the line of scrimmage well for a man of his size.

Urban Meyer said that Carter won't play if he's over 340 pounds. If Carter can't make that weight, then yes, he is a slacker. But after basically redshirting last year as a redshirt freshman following a move to defense, he has to be itching something fierce to finally see the field. Meyer isn't handing out any compliments Carter's way, but that could be by design.

Tommy Schutt
Photo by Jim Davidson
Tommy Schutt

Is Tommy Schutt soft? I don't know. I do know that in a recruiting class with Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, Schutt is the only one of the three with a collegiate start under his belt.

Against UCF last year, defensive end Nathan Williams was held out with an injury. They could have gone with Spence or Washington, but instead they moved Hankins to defensive end and plugged Schutt in at defensive tackle. Granted, all three freshmen played extensively in that game, but only one of them started.

Also, while Hale started this past spring with the ones, by the third practice, it was Schutt taking snaps with the ones instead. An ankle injury the following week sent Schutt back with the twos. How that battle will end up in the fall with two healthy players, I have no idea. Oh, while we're talking about the SEC, I should mention that Schutt also had an offer from Florida.

The three incoming freshmen are an interesting topic because it's hard to count on freshman defensive tackles for anything. On Signing Day, however, Meyer said that Billy Price (Tennessee offer) would be the one most ready to contribute because of how strong he is. Michael Hill (offers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee) and Donovan Munger (offers from Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee) will surely be thrown in the mix, but I'm not sure how much is expected from them.

Another player to keep in mind is early enrollee Tracy Sprinkle (Kentucky offer), who played defensive tackle in the spring at a whopping 262 pounds. Were they just trying to get him snaps since it's easier to do that at tackle than end? Possibly. Could he end up at tackle for good? Sure, but probably not this year. Perhaps Chris Carter can give his unwanted weight to Sprinkle.

Still, it's not like defensive tackle is so loaded that freshmen won't get snaps. After all, this incoming class could have four defensive tackles in it, and it wouldn't be by accident. They are looking for interior playmakers. These coaches tell their players that they are always trying to recruit somebody to take their jobs. This is not an idle threat. If a freshman is the team's best option, then he will be out there.

After all, there are no seniors here to be loyal to.

Mike Vrabel is likely looking for a solid rotation of four defensive tackles. If one of those four ends up being a freshman, I don't think they'll care. In fact, it would probably get them a little juiced.

It certainly appears that the top three spots are locked down with Bennett, Hale and Schutt. That fourth, however, spot looks to be completely up for grabs.

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