Thursday, March 21, 2013

OSU SPRING FOOTBALL: CUPBOARD ON DEFENSIVE FRONT ISN'T BARE

Noah Spence
COLUMBUS — Ohio State football fans may be down in the dumps about the graduation of star defensive end John Simon. It's only normal that losing the Big Ten's defensive player of the year would leave some faithful a little melancholy.

Mix in the fact that the Buckeyes also lost fellow defensive end Nathan Williams, as well as both starting tackles, Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins, and Buckeye Nation falls into a deep, deep depression.

However, before Buckeye Nation starts popping the Zoloft in record numbers, they should first examine those new faces on the OSU defensive front — most notably, sophomore Noah Spence.

Spence, a 6-foot-4, 247-pound end out of Harrisburg (Pa.), was the prize of head coach Urban Meyer's first recruiting class last season. A five-star prospect, and the nation's No. 4 overall player, according to ESPN, Spence wasted little time making his presence felt on the collegiate gridiron, recording a sack — for a loss of 20 yards — in his OSU debut.

Spence, who will be looked at by his staff this season as a catalyst on the Buckeyes' defensive front, is already catching praise of the coaches after just four practices this spring.

"I'm glad he's on our team that's all I can say," OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner said of Spence. "His speed off the edge is amazing. He will make our offensive linemen better because he will give us something every day to work on. It's hard to coach speed. He can change the game on the edge and that's good for us. 

"He can be an impact player for us"

Spence's natural abilities are abundant. He his long, quick, and possesses a high motor. Now all he needs to do is get in some work and acquire knowledge of the system.

"I don't always know what I'm doing, probably half the time I don't know," Spence smiled, following practice on Thursday. "But I'm going to give 100 percent on every play ... "

"I've got to know the defense and play every down the same, but that all comes with me knowing what I'm supposed to do on that play.

"That's the biggest thing I have to learn."

The Buckeyes also have a couple more five-star recruits from the class of 2012 who are looking to make their way up front as well, in end Adolphus Washington and tackle Tommy Schutt.

Each player saw significant playing time last season as true freshmen, playing in 10 games for the Buckeyes. 

Washington, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound speed rusher out of Cincinnati, was a monster at times last season, recording three sacks — including one in the Buckeyes' season finale against rival Michigan.

Schutt, a 6-foot-2, 305-pounder out of Illinois, also showed signs of interior dominance late last season. 

The great thing about the sophomore trio, according to defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, is that they are all eager to learn and succeed. He believes that they will fall right in line with the great defensive fronts of the past in Columbus.

"Noah has great ability and takes to coaching, and so do Adolphus and Tommy ... " Vrabel said.

"I’m always confident that at Ohio State you’re going to find four defensive linemen who are going to be able to go out there and play."

BENNETT NEEDS TO LEAD THE FRONT FOUR ... With three new starters on the defensive front, Michael Bennett — the lone Buckeye with any starting experience — needs to step up his game this season, stay healthy and play like the all-American he was coming out of Centerville (OH) High School in 2011.

"We need Michael Bennett," Vrabel said Thursday. "Michael Bennett needs some confidence in himself and he's gaining it. He has to stay healthy and take care of his body. It's not easy in there but we are expecting him to do that."

The 285-pound lineman agrees with Vrabel.

"I'd say I haven’t played up to my potential yet," Bennett said Thursday. "Last year I was coming off of some injuries. I didn’t do as well as I should have."

Bennett knows he has to be the leader up front if the Buckeyes young talent is to prosper.

"I feel like I need to step up in a leadership position," Bennett said. "I’m going to be hard on myself, the coaches are going to be hard on me and my teammates are going to be hard on me. But hopefully this year I play up to my potential."