Michael Bennett Leading OSU Defensive Line Forward
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When people talk about the Ohio State defense and the improvements that need to be made therein, they can look at the 2014 version that the Buckeyes will put on the field this season and know that as far as foundations go, it may not get much better than this OSU defensive line.
In their preseason college football annuals, both Athlon and Lindy's named the Ohio State defensive line as the best in the nation.
Fielding that type of defensive line has been one of Urban Meyer's goals since his arrival, and his recruiting has exhibited that desire perfectly.
But even with high school All-American after high school All-American on the defensive line signing with Meyer and the Buckeyes the last few years, it's actually a holdover from the Jim Tressel regime that is leading this very talented group right now.
On a defensive line that brings back four starters you might think that leaders would abound, and while that may be the case for the Buckeyes, there is one clear leader in this group, and that is senior tackle Michael Bennett.
Photo by Dan Harker
Finally healthy, Bennett blossomed last year as a junior, earning All-Big Ten recognition following a season where he led all Big Ten defensive tackles with seven sacks. Now, in places such as Lindy's, he is earning First-Team Preseason All-American notice.
His talents have been noticed, and new defensive line coach Larry Johnson thinks Bennett's abilities fit his plans for this OSU defensive line perfectly.
"Quickness is the key for me on the inside," Johnson said.
"It's not about how big you are, it's quickness. The things we do, we want to be a penetrating defense. Attack, get off the ball. With all of the spread teams, I like to play with quickness. We like to play with quickness and Mike brings that to the table. That's why he's a great fit for us on this inside."
Bennett's on-field production may earn him recognition from the outside, but it's also his production everywhere else that has earned the respect of his coaches and his teammates.
"I think he's a great leader, Johnson said.
"I think our players respect him as a leader. He's played a lot of football. I think when he opens his mouth, guys are listening to him right now, and that's the kind of leadership you want. So I've been very impressed with Mike and his leadership style on the field and off the field."
Bennett's leadership comes through not just in his play but also in his assistance of younger players. As an undersized defensive tackle at just 288 pounds, he can't just bully an offensive line with mass, so he had to learn to use all of his abilities and look for ways to get by.
With teammate Adolphus Washington making the full-time move from defensive end to slightly undersized defensive tackle, it was Bennett's teaching and encouragement that eased Washington's concerns of double teams.
Now, Washington is trying to follow in Bennett's footsteps in other ways as well.
"On our defensive line, our leader is Mike Bennett," Washington explained.
"If he's not feeling it that day or he's just in a bad mood, I kind of pick him up to pick us up. I want to be the guy who leads by example, because I'm not a really big vocal person, and that's what Mike does. He's the vocal leader. I just want to be the guy who leads by example."
Making plays on the field is just one aspect of being a leader. The ability to make other leaders, however, is often overlooked. But not by Larry Johnson.
"He's a senior," Johnson said.
"He knows he's the guy that's gotta move it forward. We talk about moving the yard stick and I think Mike's doing a great job of moving forward and moving my group forward."
Perhaps the best thing that a leader can bring to his team is the understanding that there is no such thing as a finished product. The team can always be better, and for that to happen, the individuals must continue to improve.
While everybody expects Bennett to be named a Buckeye captain, if that doesn't happen, it will simply be something else to learn from, and eventually teach from.
"If I'm a captain, that would be great because that would mean the guys trust me and the guys look up to me," Bennett said.
"But if I'm not a captain that means I went wrong somewhere. If anything that would just be a good check to see if I'm on the right track."
Bennett is certainly on the right track, and the hope from his coaches is that he will be bringing the rest of the defense right along with him.
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