Spring Forecast: Defensive Tackle

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Last updated: 02/20/2014 2:56 AM
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OSU Spring Forecast: Defensive Tackle
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If the game is won up front, then there may be no more important position on the Ohio State defense than defensive tackle. Stopping a offense before it can even get started has always been the surest way to keep the opponent from scoring, and that will be new coach Larry Johnson's charge immediately.

Johnson prefers and teaches his defensive linemen to attack upfield. He's not all that interested in his tackles occupying blockers, he wants everybody keying on the backfield. This is likely music to the ears of his linemen, but it's never quite as easy as it sounds.

Johnson is just getting to know his players right now, but he won't get to see them on the field until spring practice starts. While there may be an idea of what's to come, there are plenty of questions without answers yet. The spring will answer some of them, but probably not all.

Who's Coming Back?

Everybody, and then some. Last year's starters Michael Bennett (6-3 285) and Joel Hale (6-4 310) are back, but there are reports that Hale may be moving over to the offensive line. Bennett was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, and would be a good bet to make first team in 2014.

Michael Bennett
Photo by Dan Harker
Michael Bennett

In addition, four juniors and three redshirt freshmen return as well. Adolphus Washington (6-4 295) will possibly float back and forth between defensive end and tackle, while Tommy Schutt (6-1 299) will likely get a long look at nose tackle.

Chris Carter (6-4 340) will surely intrigue Larry Johnson, and if Chase Farris (6-4 308) stays on defense, you can expect to see him in the rotation as well. The redshirt freshmen: Donovan Munger (6-4 290), Tracy Sprinkle (6-2 275), and Michael Hill (6-2 305) will also be very involved in the early practices.

This will be Munger's first sustained action as a Buckeye, as a blood clot cost him the season last year. Sprinkle may not have a position yet, and he could split time between end and tackle. Hill has a ton of potential and will undoubtedly be in heavy rotation this season.

Expectations Heading Into Spring

The Buckeyes should have more options at the three technique than they know what to do with, but it will be the situation at nose tackle which may ultimately decide how well this front four performs.

Even with the sheer number of returnees, the only tackle who will definitively be on the field is Michael Bennett. Adolphus Washington would seem to be another, but that would mean either he or Bennett would have to play the nose, and neither are exactly groomed for that position.

We can expect Larry Johnson to find out who his four best defensive linemen are, and then figure out how to get them on the field together. Then, when that's settled, he can maneuver his rotation around those four.

With the amount of targeting that Urban Meyer has done of the defensive line on the recruiting trail, they'll be expecting some return on their investments, no matter how young those players might be.

Best Case Scenario
The best case scenario would have a nose tackle stepping up without forcing anybody to play out of position. The second-best scenario would probably be Washington or Bennett playing extremely well even being out of position.

If somebody could emerge at nose tackle, that would not only free up Bennett and Washington to do what they do best, but it would also add depth to a position that could be losing last year's starter to the offensive line.

One to Watch For
It's probably too early to say which defensive tackle spot Michael Hill will wind up at, but it's not too early to say that he should be pretty good regardless of where he ends up.

During camp last fall, before there was Joey Bosa impressing as a freshman, there was Michael Hill. He was disruptive in scrimmages and destructive in one-on-ones. He impressed early in the year, but an injury ended his season. At the very least, he should pick up where he left off last season.

Trending Up or Down

When there is a possibility of moving one of last year's defensive line starters to the offensive line, that is a testament to the current state of the depth on that defensive line. Because of this depth, the defensive tackle position is absolutely trending upward.

This position would be trending up just due to the numbers alone. Last season Chase Farris needed to move over from the offensive line to the defensive line because they had no other bodies. He actually started a game for the Buckeyes. This year, there are more options for Ohio State, and they shouldn't find themselves handcuffed like they did a year ago.

More options doesn't necessarily mean more production, but it does mean more possibilities, and for a defense that has had its struggles of late, possibilities are never a bad thing.

Final Thoughts
Urban Meyer has attacked the defensive line on the recruiting trail, and the numbers and the depth chart at defensive tackle reflect that aggression. There is quite a bit of potential here, despite possibly just one senior on the roster.

That being said, Ohio State needs more production out of their defensive tackles than they got a year ago. Larry Johnson's style of play fits that need, and that marriage should be a highlight of the spring practices.

Like the situation at defensive end, the defensive tackles should be ahead of the offensive line throughout the spring. If all goes well, however, the interior of that offensive line will catch up pretty quickly.

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