How Dylan Thompson, Kyle Berger's Injuries Will Impact Ohio State's 2014 Defense

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2014

Credit: 247Sports

Ohio State's defensive front seven, which is loaded on the first-team but lacking for quality depth, will be without a pair of potentially useful freshman backups in defensive end Dylan Thompson and linebacker Kyle Berger this season.

According to Tim May of the Columbus Dispatcha team spokesman confirmed that both players are expected to sit out the entire year after getting hurt in practice, although the official nature of the injuries has hitherto gone undisclosed.

Berger, however, tweeted over the weekend that he re-tore his ACL, a relapse of the injury that ended his senior year of high school:

Thompson's injury is believed to be a fractured kneecap that will not require surgery, according to May's report.

As far as immediate repercussions are concerned, this does not appear to be a fatal blow to Ohio State's defense. Bleacher Report's David Regimbal did not list either player on his projected two-deep depth chart in July, so the first and second teams remain intact.

But it's not always quite that simple. Berger was a 4-star recruit and one of the top 160 players in the 2014 class, and Thompson, despite ranking all the way down at No. 464 nationally, had the size (6'5", 270 pounds) and potential to become a useful rotation player off the bat.

Here's what Christopher Jason of Land-Grant Holy Land had to say of Thompson during national signing day:

Thompson is a very solid defensive tackle who has the intangibles to get into the defensive line rotation right away. He is a workout warrior and does well against the run and as a pass rusher. He is quick off the ball for his size and is a disruptive force on the line of scrimmage. By mid-to-late season, I expect to see Thompson to see the field in the defensive line rotation.

Jason's assessment that Thompson might be playing early came before Jamal Marcus transferred out of the program, too. Marcus started the Orange Bowl in place of suspended star Noah Spence and was projected to keep that role while Spence finished up his suspension in the first two weeks of this season.

Now the Buckeyes defensive line will be lacking yet another body when it plays Navy and Virginia Tech—a tougher pair of opponents than last year's opening duo, Buffalo and San Diego State.

Navy in particular has a running game capable of exploiting line attrition. The Midshipmen finished second in the country with 325.4 rushing yards per game last season, trailing only Auburn, and ran for 331 yards against the toughest opponent they played: a Notre Dame team with similarly regarded athletes as OSU.

They are not an offense to be taken lightly.

Assuming Ohio State survives the first two weeks without Spence, though, the biggest impact of these losses will be a thinning of the ranks and a diminished margin for error regarding future injuries.

Every potential contributor that goes down—even if he wasn't projected to land on the two-deep—makes the continued health of other players more imperative. For a team that already had depth concerns such as Ohio State, this holds doubly true.

Players such as Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee, Trey Johnson, Raekwon McMillan and Camren Williams can hold down the linebacker spots in the opening weeks, but if one or more of them goes down, Berger might have been the man counted upon to replace them.

Losing former blue-chip linebacker Mike Mitchell to a transfer (Texas Tech) in February hurts in this regard, too—even more than losing Marcus hurts the defensive line.

Still, the impact of Berger's injury is probably less germane to 2014 than Thompson's. More than how it affects this season, the biggest questions concern how a second torn ACL affects Berger's career.

Credit: 247Sports

Will he ever be the same player that he was in 2012?

Thompson's loss, on the other hand, presents immediate and important questions about the state of the current defense.

The Buckeyes line desperately needs another player to step up behind the core four—Spence, Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington—and proven rotation player Steve Miller.

Thompson stood a decent shot of becoming that guy, and his absence puts an even bigger onus on players such as Chris Carter, Tommy Schutt, Rashad Frazier, Tyquan Lewis and higher-ranked freshman Jalyn Holmes to step up and contribute.

If nobody does, Ohio State's defensive line might underachieve despite fantastic individual numbers the same way it did in 2013, when it finished No. 96 in adjusted line yards (which broadly measures how a line defends the run), per Football Study Hall.

With running backs such as Jeremy Langford, Tevin Coleman and David Cobb on the Big Ten schedule and either Melvin Gordon or Ameer Abdullah potentially looming in the conference title game, a repeat of those numbers would be unacceptable.

Ultimately, it could even mean the difference between making and missing the College Football Playoff.


Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT