Ohio State Players Who Must Step Up with Noah Spence Suspended
When Ohio State left Columbus minus star defensive end Noah Spence, speculation and intrigue followed. OSU would only say he was "dealing with a personal issue," and no more.
Ohio State finally ended the speculation Wednesday morning, announcing Spence had been suspended for three games.
His suspension was due to a "violation of Big Ten rules," without further explanation as to what B1G rule it was that he violated.
While that information is likely to come out over time, the more important thing going forward is how OSU replaces a first-team All-Big Ten defensive end and a player who recorded a team-high eight sacks.
Luckily, Ohio State has a lot of talent and depth on the defensive line and replacing Spence for three games may further build that depth for the future.
Spence will miss the Orange Bowl and two intriguing matchups in 2014, with OSU facing Navy and Virginia Tech to open the season.
It's not the cupcake city OSU opened 2013 with, so there are players who will need to step up.
Who are those players? Let's explore the players who need to step up in his absence.
Joey Bosa, DE
Joey Bosa started the season as a freshman with a lot of potential, but one who would be brought along slowly.
That didn't last long, as Bosa pushed his way into a bigger and bigger role as the season went on. He finished the regular season with 39 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
It all added up to perhaps the best performance on defense by any freshman in the Big Ten and Bosa comes into the Orange Bowl as a starter on the depth chart.
With Spence out, Bosa is the next-best pass-rushing option at defensive end. He's clearly proven adept at it and the Buckeyes have to feel confident in his ability.
However, Bosa has more responsibility than just pass rushing and he doesn't fit well into the Viper position. It also remains to be seen if Bosa can produce those kinds of numbers without Spence on the other side attracting attention away.
He's got the skill set to be successful, so watch for him to be a big name with Spence out.
Michael Bennett, DT
Yes, a defensive tackle makes this list of players who need to step up. Judging by his 2013 season, Michael Bennett is more than up to the task.
He finished the regular season with 38 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and was second on the team with seven sacks. That's a rare combination for a defensive tackle in the scheme that OSU runs, playing a traditional DT role in the 4-3 and a nose guard role when it goes more hybrid.
With Spence out, a talented player like Bennett can really help the rest of the line by continuing to play at the high level he did all season long.
Bennett's performance didn't go unnoticed across the Big Ten, as he was named second-team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and media in 2013.
The junior has garnered a ton of attention from the NFL and he may end up making the leap to the big league, but if not he is clearly the leader this defense will need.
If he stays, no player may be a bigger help to absorbing the loss of Spence than Bennett with his versatility and production.
Jamal Marcus, DE
"Next Man Up" is common nomenclature in football these days, and at Ohio State that means Jamal Marcus is the man to look to.
He is listed as the next man at the Viper position on Ohio State's depth chart for the Orange Bowl and will have to see the field no matter what.
Marcus didn't have a bad season in Spence's rather large shadow—recording 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks on the year.
The 6'2", 240-pound sophomore has the body to play the pass-rushing specialist position that the Viper is and this could be the chance he needs to really showcase his skills.
Let's not forget Marcus came to Ohio State as a 4-star recruit and a top-25 player as a defensive end out of high school.
He's also benefited from Spence's tutelage all season, now it's time to see if Marcus has what it takes to be the "next man up" for Ohio State.
Steve Miller, DE
We talked about the "next man up" mentality already, but don't sleep on Steve Miller to be a factor in replacing Spence's production either.
He is listed as the "or" alongside Jamal Marcus on the Ohio State depth chart for a reason.
Miller is the biggest of the options to replace Spence at 6'3" and 255 pounds, according to the depth chart. As a junior, he also happens to be the most experienced in terms of time in the program as well.
In 2013, Miller recorded 12 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks—numbers that are nearly all higher than Marcus' production, and in just 10 games no less.
The question is if Miller can be an every down type of player, or is he just a spot player who is best in obvious pass-rushing situations?
We may get that answer come the Orange Bowl, as he is likely to see extended playing time at the Viper position.
A good performance and a solid spring could lead the senior to a starting role to open his final year in Columbus.
Jalyn Holmes, DE
Yes, there's an option that may not even be on Ohio State's roster just yet and that's 4-star (according to 247sports) defensive end Jalyn Holmes.
He is one of the many highly touted prospects OSU is putting in its second-ranked 2014 recruiting class.
Holmes has the body to come in and play a role right away next season. With Spence's suspension, he could get time to prove himself—especially if Marcus or Miller fail to impress in the Orange Bowl and throughout spring.
Is he a long shot to be a huge contributor in the absences of Spence? You bet, but he is a name to keep an eye out for. It's not as if Urban Meyer is averse to playing freshmen or anything.