Spring football practices at Ohio State have brought the first wave of installments for the highly anticipated spread offense implemented by Urban Meyer. Also, Braxton Miller's improvement at the quarterback position is probably what both fans and coaches are most anxious to see. The most exciting aspect of this year's spring game belongs to the defensive line. With former Buckeye Mike Vrabel at the helm of the D-Line, spirits and expectations are high.
There is no question that returning 19 players who all started at some point last season speaks volumes for the potential in 2012. The defense is no exception, bringing back 10 players who had the role of starter last year. A veteran player-turned-coach combined with a dynamite depth chart is the reason that the defensive line will be the most exciting position during the spring game.
The following list is why the D-Line should be what to watch for at The Horseshoe come April 21 when the Scarlet takes the field against the Gray.
One of the preseason favorites for a DE position was Nathan Williams, but he is still recovering from knee surgery and won't be involved in the spring game. Williams missed all but one game last year due to injury, but was seventh on the team in tackles in 2010 with 46.
It would have been nice to see him in action again after the surgery, but coaches will have time to evaluate Williams as he is expected to be back for fall camp. The 6'3", 255 lbs. red-shirt senior has obvious talent and strength, but has never gotten an opportunity to fully prove himself at Ohio State. Williams could be an X-factor when the season kicks off or the Buckeyes could lose a big talent due to injury.
While this group of defensive lineman is absolutely loaded with talent, the depth chart may resemble musical chairs until the season kicks off. The biggest question here is not due to lack of talent but because of the amount of talent available.
Andrew Bellamy is among the favorites at DE, and was the day-one starter for spring practices, but early enrollee Se'Von Pittman may also have a say. Getting involved in early strength training, conditioning and practices to learn the playbook will give Pittman a leg-up on his competition for this position.
Late last week the Columbus Dispatch reported Pittman being out for the remainder of spring practices with a sprained knee. Stranger things have happened, though, and Pittman does still have some time to rest before April 21st. His experience gained thus far being an early enrollee still gives him an advantage while battling for playing time.
Top Ohio State recruits Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington could also shake things up at defensive end, although they will not be joining the team until fall practices begin. This will not add to the excitement physically at the spring game, but seeing what the D-Line can do now, and then imagining the impact of adding a 4-star and two 5-star recruits to the mix will get your appetite wet for this upcoming year.
Having so much talent at this position will not only make for an exciting spring game but also ensure players are being challenged at their roles and aren't getting comfortable. Buckeye fans: be ready for a tenacious pass rush in the 2012 season.
The slimmed-down junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins should be a little quicker off the ball this year. He still weighs in at over 300 lbs., which makes it more than a chore for any offensive lineman to move him around. Hankins tallied 67 tackles last year, including 11 for losses and three sacks.
Defensive tackles Garrett Goebel and Michael Bennet will also see time at the tackle position this year depending on what scheme is being run. Bennet stood out the most of the two last year and would likely be beside Hankins in the event the defense calls for two tackles.
Former DE for the Buckeyes and veteran of the NFL, Mike Vrabel will be in charge of this highly touted squad. Coach Vrabel holds two key characteristics as to why this defense will be so dominating this year and that is experience and leadership. Vrabel won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and was a leader as a captain both on and off the field.
Coach Vrabel shared some keys to success earlier this week in Ohio State's newspaper, The Lantern. He said:
"We're gonna play physical, we're gonna play square and we're gonna play violent with our hands."
Vrabel's experience on the field runs deep as he played 14 seasons in the NFL, recording over 600 tackles. An odd statistic for a defensive player to have, Vrabel also had 10 career receptions, all going for touchdowns. Needless to say the experience is there and this second-year coach is no doubt excited to pass it on to his players.
Vrabel will be coaching under defensive coordinator and former teammate at Ohio State, Luck Fickell. Vrabel and Fickell had last year to get reacquainted with each other and should work really well together.
Defensive Specialist John Simon
First team All-Big Ten honoree John Simon is returning to lead this young but talented group. Although he is versatile and has been filling in for the injured Nathan Williams as stand-up end or "LEO" position on the weak side of the field, Simon could be inside with DT Jonathan Hankins by the beginning of fall. If Williams can return to full health by fall practices, or if J.T. Moore can impress the coaching staff enough at the LEO position, Simon could be back at his bread-and-butter position as a down lineman.
In an interview with the Ohio State newspaper, The Lantern, Coach Vrabel stated that defensive stars like Simon are, "exceedingly hard to find".
Coach Urban Meyer was quoted on Buckeyebattlecry.com as saying Simon along with Hankins on the defensive line "disrupt everything".
At various positions last year, Simon tallied 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Wherever Simon ends up playing this year, he is going to be a favorite for All-Big Ten honors again in 2012.