Spring Recap: Defensive Tackles

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Football
2013 Spring Recap - The Defensive Tackles
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — We have finally reached one of the few unknown quantities in our Spring Recap series. The Buckeyes are replacing defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel who combined for 50 career starts, and are doing it with a group of players who have three career starts.

The defensive tackles didn't necessarily get to show all that they can do this spring because so much of the focus was on passing the ball. We don't really know how well they'll hold up against the run this year. Luke Fickell is confident, but this is a very different front seven than last season.

"We don't get a chance to see on a daily basis how a Wisconsin would line up against you," he said. "So are there concerns? Yeah, there are concerns because we don't see it on a daily basis. But our number one thing is stopping the run. We call that 'the toughness factor'.

"This program is based on toughness. If we don't believe that we can stop the run, then it's not about our scheme, it's about our kids having the toughness to do it. I don't worry about it. That doesn't keep me up at night because of the way we treat them in the weight room and the way we push things."

Returning Starters: None

Others Returning: Michael Bennett (Jr.), Joel Hale (Jr.), Tommy Schutt (So.), Chris Carter (rSo.)

Joel Hale
Photo by Jim Davidson
Joel Hale

Michael Bennett and Joel Hale are the leaders of this group, though Bennett is the only sure starter at this point. He dealt with injuries last year, though prior to the season Urban Meyer called Bennett one of the top four defensive linemen on the team.

Bennett is undersized (6-3 285) for his position, but is quick, strong, and able to get leverage. He is a natural pass rusher, but Mike Vrabel cited his ability to stop the run as one of his better qualities. He had a very solid spring and brings some reassurance to a position with several question marks.

"Michael had a good spring," Vrabel said. "He was consistent. He was there every day. He didn't miss any time with bumps or bruises, which is something that he's done in the past. He hasn't been able to put a whole string of a bunch of practices together. Michael did that.

Michael Bennett
Photo by Dan Harker
Michael Bennett

"He was a leader for us. He gave us a physical presence inside. His understanding was very high of what he was being asked to do. He did some good things. He still has to progress. I think his worst day was probably the spring game. I think them throwing a lot of passes took him out of his game a little bit, but he had a good consistent spring for us."

While Bennett will handle Johnathan Hankins' old three technique spot, Joel Hale and Tommy Schutt will be battling for the nose tackle job.

Schutt dealt with a leg injury for most of the spring, so Hale got the majority of the first-team reps. The nose tackle is never going to get the publicity that they might warrant, and Hale is no different. The Buckeye running game looked pretty good this spring, but I don't think that all gets put on the tackles' shoulders.

"I think Joel Hale improved," Vrabel said. "We saw things from Joel Hale that we hadn't seen last year, as far as his being able to play with some body lean and extension on blockers. Joel's doing a great job. He's a veteran for us, and he's been here two years.

"This is going to be Joel's third season, but he's a veteran for us, that's how young we are. So Joel kind of keeps everybody together and keeps them on the right path and he goes hard and we always hear him talking. He's an important cog to what we're doing. We understand how important Joel is to our room."

Tommy Shutt
Photo by Jim Davidson
Tommy Schutt

Schutt, meanwhile, got a start last year as a freshman, ahead of both Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. Much was expected of him this spring, but he was just never able to get it going.

"I think Tommy Schutt is going to be a guy that's going to help us in the rotation," Vrabel said. "But just from an injury standpoint wasn't able to be out there a majority of the time."

The wildcard in the mix this spring was Chris Carter. Listed at 341 pounds, he showed an ability to completely collapse a running game at times. It wasn't every time, but he was definitely noticeable when he was out there. We saw him blow things up in the middle, as well as pursue. He's got to get more consistent, and probably drop more weight, but like everybody else, Vrabel is intrigued by what he saw this spring.

"I think that Chris Carter, the last two weeks, looked like a nose guard," he said after the spring. "He looked like a legitimate force inside. It's something that we're going to have to continue to coach and to continue to push to get his full potential, because there's not a lot of guys his size that can do what he does physically."

Newcomers: Tracy Sprinkle (Fr.), Donovan Munger (Fr.), Billy Price (Fr.), Michael Hill (Fr.)

Tracy Sprinkle was the only freshman who enrolled early in this group. It's not clear if he will end up at defensive end or defensive tackle, but he played both this spring as the coaches tried to get an idea of the possibilities. He was overmatched at times, but also found some success in scrimmage situations. He's too light to play tackle right now, as he might be 270 pounds at the moment. Obviously he will get bigger.

How quickly Donovan Munger, Billy Price and Michael Hill see the field this season will depend on how seriously they take the offseason. On signing day, Urban Meyer mentioned Price as the one that he thought would be most ready.

With just four defensive tackles with any experience, there will need to be at least one freshman who can provide some minutes. Whichever freshman is the most versatile will probably stand the best chance of getting those snaps.

"This game is so much different at times, and that's what you've got to have the ability to do, you've got to be able to have guys that can do it all," Fickell said.

"Especially those guys inside. One minute they're playing Wisconsin where they're pounding the football with 340-pound offensive linemen, and then you're playing our offense or somebody else where they spread you out with four wides. That ability for us to be good at everything that we do is the key, it's not just one specific thing."

Depth Chart
NOSE TACKLE
Joel Hale (6-4 309, Jr.)
Tommy Schutt (6-2 303, So.)
Chris Carter (6-4 341, rSo.)
Ivon Blackman (6-3 320, Sr.)
Michael Hill (6-3 315, Fr.)

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Michael Bennett (6-3 285, Jr.)
Tommy Schutt (6-2 303, So.)
Tracy Sprinkle (6-2 265, Fr.)
Billy Price (6-4 280, Fr.)
Donovan Munger (6-4 290, Fr.)

Spring Links
My Spring Standouts: Defense

Reader Mail: Concerns at Defensive Tackle

Spring Thoughts on the Defense at the Midway Point

Former Wolverine Walks On To Ohio State Football Team

Spring Practice Insider: Short-Yardage Drills Set the Tone

Spring Practice Insider: Defense Coming Together

Bennett Looking to Fill Some Very Big Shoes in 2013

Two Minute Drill: OL and DL Updates After Practice

Fickell Looking for Seven Reliable Warriors

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