Ohio State will enter the 2013 season as one of just a handful of teams expected to compete for a national title, but the Buckeyes' fate could rest in the hands of their young defensive line.
Ohio State, of course, is replacing all four starters along its defensive front after losing John Simon, Nathan Williams, Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel to either the NFL draft or graduation.
Those four combined to start 107 games, piling up 510 tackles and 51 sacks, according to Ohio State's official website. Replacing that combination of experience and talent will be no easy task.
The potential they possess, though, is tremendous.
That potential was on display during Ohio State's spring game in April. Spence and Washington combined for seven "touch" sacks (the quarterbacks wore black no-contact jerseys), looking unblockable for much of the scrimmage.
If the pair can provide even a fraction of that production on a week-to-week basis, it will give defensive coordinator Luke Fickell some margin of error with the interior.
When it comes to the inside, Ohio State returns a bit more experience with juniors Michael Bennett and Joel Hale.
Bennett, who played in all 13 games his freshman season but played in just eight last year because of a knee injury, is the most experienced lineman. Meyer called upon Bennett to fill in for Simon when the Buckeyes' star defensive end missed Ohio State's season finale against Michigan.
According to Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com, Buckeyes strength coach Mickey Marotti has tabbed Hale as the leader of the D-line. Marotti stated that the work ethic Hale brings sets a great example for the younger guys.
Safety Christian Bryant told The Columbus Dispatch that Spence and Washington will fill in just fine for the departed starters.
Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, they look incredible right now to me. Those guys, they don’t stop going. It’s like we have another John Simon just stepping right up—not quite as old or experienced like John Simon, but they’re doing a pretty good job.
If those players bring the same intensity Simon brought to the field, replacing those four starters won't be as daunting.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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