Ohio State Football: 2008 Team Preview (Part Three)

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Ohio State Football:  2008 Team Preview (Part Three)

So here we are, watching the clock tick down to the start of the College Football season, and everyone is getting anxious.  I hope to provide a fix for you fanatics and get you acquainted with the 2008 Buckeyes and what may ensue this upcoming year.

 

This walk-through guide offer’s up the offensive preview in parts one and two, while the defense and special teams will be analyzed in parts three and four. 

 

In Part One of the series, I broke down the ‘Backs of the Buckeye offense.  In Part Two of the series, I broke down the wide receivers, tight ends, and the offensive line.

 

In Part Three of the series, I introduce the front seven of this highly touted defense.  With losing only two starters out of the possible seven slots, these players look uphold their lofty defensive ranking from the ’07 season.

 

This group boasts breakout freshman-now-sophomore Cameron Heyward, Nagurski and Butkis Trophy winner James Laurinaitis, and the ever underrated Marcus Freeman.

 

 

 

Defensive Line:

 

Key Returnees:

  • Nader Abdallah, No. 93—6’4”, 300 lbs., Redshirt Senior
  • Todd Denlinger, No. 92—6’2, 292 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Thadeus Gibson, No. 90—6’2”, 240 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
  • Cameron Heyward, No. 97—6’6”, 287 lbs., Sophomore
  • Dexter Larimore, No. 72—6’2”, 300 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
  • Robert Rose, No. 9—6’5”, 285 lbs., Junior
  • Lawrence Wilson, No. 87—6’4”, 274 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Doug Worthington, No. 84—6’6”, 276 lbs., Redshirt Junior

Key Additions:

  • Garrett Goebel, No. 53—6’5”, 278 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Keith Wells, No. 94—6’5”, 207 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Willie Mobley, No. 96—6’2”, 263 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Nathan Williams, No. 39—6’4”, 245 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Shawntel Rowell, No. ?—6’2, 330 lbs., Incoming Freshman

Key Departures:

  • VernonGholston (Early Entrant-NFL)

 

2007 Statistics

 

Tackles

TacklesForLoss

Sacks

FF

PB

INT’s

Abdallah

19

2.5

1

-

-

-

Denlinger

13

3

1

-

-

-

Gibson

11

3

1

1

2

-

Heyward

29

9

2.5

-

3

-

Larimore

16

5.5

2

-

-

-

Rose

4

1.5

1

-

-

-

Wilson

2

1.5

1

-

-

-

Worthington

24

2

1

1

1

1

 

 

The defensive line is perhaps the biggest question mark on this entire squad.  After being labeled a weak point in 2007, the defensive tackles are coming in with a lot to prove. 

 

The defensive coaches will most likely go with a rotational set up the middle, interchanging Todd Denlinger, Dexter Larimore, Doug Worthington, and Nader Abdallah. 

 

While none of those names are house-hold, even in Buckeye country, keep in mind that all four were lacking experience, something they gained a lot of last season.

 

The inside had their ups and downs last year, proving they were wildly inconsistent.  Look no further than the Michigan game where the defensive line, both inside and out, dominated the Wolverines offensive line.  Same could be said for the Wisconsin game.

 

In quite the contrast, the Illinois, Penn State, and LSU games were prime examples of the inconsistencies.  The Illini put hats on the Buckeye linebacking corps regularly, and there was a lack of push up the middle.  Penn State eliminated James Laurinaitis from the game plan, and against LSU, there seemed to be no pressure at all.

 

Nader Abdallah returns as a starter from ’07 and is a key component of the interior line in ‘08.  Doug Worthington also returns as the opposite starting tackle and both spearhead the interior unit.  Todd Denlinger was supplanted by Abdallah last season due to injury, but is worthy of a starting slot. 

 

Last but not least, Dexter Larimore, only started one game, but got plenty of playing time and posted the best numbers of any defensive tackle on the squad.

 

As you can see, there is no questioning the depth at the position.  The level of play hardly, if at all, drops off when these players are rotated as all of the talent level between the four is quite comparable. 

 

This obviously keeps the line fresh, and should help to outlast opposing offensive lines.  With the maturation from last season to this season, technique as well as the mental aspects should improve and help solidify the interior of the line.

 

The incoming freshman at defensive tackle will probably not be able to make an impact this season, as they will need a year to bulk up.  Garrett Goebel and Willie Mobley will try to convince coaches otherwise. 

 

So while it is possible, I just don’t see it happening.  Shawntel Rowell had an academic snag and hopes to rejoin the Buckeyes in December, so he will obviously not be able to contribute this season.

 

Moving to the outside, the Buckeyes lost their best pass rusher in Vernon Gholston, who was the only underclassman to declare for the NFL draft from last years team. 

 

Gholston constantly demanded a double team and showed why when he terrorized Jake Long and the Michigan offensive line.  LSU even made it a point to run a majority of their plays away from Vernon in effort to negate his pass rush.

 

Many feel that Gholston’s production will be difficult to replace.  That notion is not necessarily wrong, but there is one player who is up to the task: Lawrence Wilson.  Wilson was actually slated as the starter before breaking his leg in the opener of ’07, putting an end to his season. 

 

Gholston, who would have played opposite Wilson, slid over and benefited greatly.  The coaching staff was raving about Wilson before his injury, and had high expectations. 

 

The injury had its silver lining: the emergence of Cameron Heyward.  Heyward was thrown into the fire early and often, and proved he is an incredible talent. 

 

His performances as a true freshman were pretty astounding, and with another year of tutelage and weight training, he may be one of the top lineman in the country. 

 

When Gholston left, normal circumstances would have Heyward becoming the marquee guy with unproven talent on the end, or Wilsonhaving to deal with the same. Fortunately for both Wilson and Heyward, they have each other to benefit from.

 

The biggest question seems to be Robert Rose, a phenom coming out of high school, and a player who made himself known in the Army All-American game.  Rose is coming off surgery’s to not one, but both of his shoulders.  I

 

njuries have been the name of the game for much of his time at Ohio State, but both Rose and the coaches hope that is behind him after these two operations. 

 

If Rose comes out healthy, he is a difference-maker on the line.  Rob has been a defensive end since enrolling as a Buckeye, but all of that seems poised to change this upcoming season. 

 

Rose looks to become a hybrid of sorts, moving inside on certain packages, bolstering the tackle position.  Rose has really bulked up, making it a certainty that he will be able to fill a defensive tackle position.

 

Robert is not the only player on the line to be making this transition: Cameron Heyward may be sliding inside occasionally as well. 

 

In obvious passing downs, Ohio Statemay trot out a defensive line consisting of: Thad Gibson, Cam Heyward, Rob Rose, and Lawrence Wilson.  Talk about a pass rush.  This would be very situational, and would not fare well against the run, so look for it to be used sparingly.

 

Also look for a three defensive lineman formation.  Any combinations of the aforementioned four are extremely adept at getting to the quarterback.  Having the ability to drop eight into coverage would benefit the Buckeyes greatly in passing situations.

 

Does getting this many defensive ends/pass rushers in the game at once seem familiar?  It should, as this is what overwhelmed the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.  Getting it to work to that kind of perfection is another task all in itself, but Ohio State certainly has the talent to do so.

 

Again, looking at the incoming freshman, there may just be too much talented and too many bodies on the outside for Nathan Williams and Keith Wells to get on the field this season. 

 

Both seem to be impressing coaches thus far, and may get a spot appearance here and there, but injuries may be the only way these two get extensive playing time.

 

Wild Card:

 

The sleeper pick at defensive end is no stranger to OSU fans, but rather an unknown commodity to outsiders: Thaddeus Gibson.  Gibson is an absolute physical monster, who will be looking to finally establish himself as an all out pass rusher.

 

Up to this point, Gibson hasn’t quite put it all together mentally, but after being chosen first overall in the spring game draft, he obviously has a vote of confidence from his teammates.

 

Gibson has been described as “virtually un-blockable” up to this point in scrimmages.  He apparently is showing an array of pass rush moves, and seems to be having his way.  Has Thad Gibson finally arrived?  If he has, quarterbacks beware.

 

Bottom Line:

 

The interior of this unit needs to do a better job at the point of attack if this defense wants to hang with the heavyweights.  As with any player who struggled with their first year of considerate playing time, experience helps to make improvements from one year to the next.  This line should see those improvements, but nothing is guaranteed.

 

With Heyward and Rose playing a ‘hybrid’ role, it should definitely help to bolster the inside and lessen any concerns there may be.

 

The old adage goes ‘Defenses win championships’, and defenses are built up front.  If the defensive line doesn’t improve, it won’t matter how well the talented back seven plays, because it will be the same ole’ song and dance for the Buckeyes in ’08.

 

Linebackers:

 

Key Returnees:

  • James Laurinaitis, No. 33—6’3”, 240 lbs., Senior
  • Marcus Freeman, No. 1—6’1”, 239 lbs., Redshirt Senior
  • Ross Homan, No. 51—6’0”, 229 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
  • Austin Spitler, No. 38—6’3”, 234 lbs., Redshirt Junior
  • Tyler Moeller, No. 26—6’0”, 216 lbs., Redshirt Sophomore
  • Curis Terry, No. 99—6’1”, 229 lbs., Redshirt Senior
  • Brian Rolle, No. 36—5’11” 221 lbs., Sophomore

Key Additions:

  • Etienne Sabino, No. 6—6’3”, 232 lbs., Incoming Freshman
  • Andrew Sweat, No. 42—6’2” 220 lbs., Incoming Freshman

Key Departures:

  • Larry Grant (Exhausted Eligibility-NFL)

 

Linebacker is yet another position of strength on this Buckeye squad.  You see the recurring theme here with this team?  It’s Quality and Quantity.  

 

Returning for his senior season is a man that needs no introduction, James Laurinaitis.  Dubbed the “Animal” after his father’s wrestling moniker, Laurinaitis plays all over the field.  A Nagurski and Butkis award winner, James led the team in tackles last season and just swarms to the ball.

 

Many feel James is overrated, which he is definitely not.  Overhyped? That can certainly be argued, but not overrated.  What was the one problem area for Ohio State last season that even SEC teams/fans would agree on? 

 

The answer would probably most favor the defensive line.  So here is Laurinaitis, leading the team in tackles and returning as the leading sack master, all of that without a formidable interior line.

 

James’ strongest suit is playing in coverage, which he did a considerable amount of the time last season.  Conceivably a reason why he may get so many tackles ‘8-10 yards past the line of scrimmage’, an argument many make to show why he is overrated.  James was the only Buckeye linebacker to pick off a pass in ’07, and has seven career interceptions.

 

Just watch an Ohio Stategame, and a majority of the time, you will either see Luaranaitis in on the tackle, in the pile, or in your picture.  Even when he seems he’s been taken out of a play, he is still right there.  He is not overly physical, but makes sound tackles and a nose for the football.

 

The biggest weak point a person can find for James would be his struggles in shedding blocks.  It seems as if an offensive lineman can get a hat on Lauranaitis, he is often negated from the play. 

 

Penn State and Illinois did exactly that, which is why the interior defensive line must improve.  If you happen to scheme the ‘Animal’ out of a play, someone else will step up.

 

That someone else will be, more times than not, Marcus Freeman.  Freeman gets the nod as the starting strong-side outside linebacker.  Like James Laurinaitis, Freeman returns for his senior season, cementing this line-backing corps as arguably the best in the nation.

 

Freeman could best be described as versatile, as he can play both outside spots with little problem.  As a sophomore, Marcus played strong-side while playing weak-side least season as a junior.  When Ohio State goes with their nickel defense, Marcus will remain on the field, moving over to the weak-side.

 

Marcus has often been the forgotten man, as James Luarinaitis and Larry Grant overshadowed him last season, and James continues to do so this season.  Freeman is about as well rounded of a player as you can find, as he can drop back into coverage and step up and take on the run very well. 

 

Some have even argued that Marcus could be better than Luarinaitis, but I won’t go there...yet.

 

In games where James struggled, Marcus stepped up with big performances, such as the Penn State and Illinois game.  Freeman also had a very respectable National Championship Game performance, and was perhaps the Buckeyes best defender that day.  Look for Freeman to have a big year and shoot up NFL prospect lists.

 

The weak-side linebacker slot seems to have been claimed by Ross Homan.  Homan saw considerable playing time as a freshman in ‘06, which is really saying something considering the talent of linebackers at that time.  Ross took a medical redshirt last season due to turf toe and now is stepping in, ready to pick up where he left off.

 

Homan brings speed to the table as well as great instincts, making him valuable on the weak side.  Ross is very football savvy in understanding the defensive packages, and has great play making ability.  He was primed for a breakout year last season before the turf toe injury, but has waited patiently to make an impact this season.

 

Austin Spitler has been a formidable backup to James Lauranaitis, but hasn’t quite grasped the concept of playing under control.  Austin has a tendency to commit personal fouls at inopportune times, such as in the National Championship game. 

 

That may not be fair to Austin, as that particular example was not a situation in which he lost his ‘cool’.  It is though, an indication of his inclination to make such mistakes.  He has talent though, there is no denying that.  Spitler should see playing time in mop up duty and on special teams.

 

Brian Rolle is your quintessential heavy hitter.  He may have a small frame, but he sure can hit.  Brian was a standout on special teams, making him very valuable considering the struggles of the special teams unit.  Rolle will be looking to backup Homan at the Weak-side linebacker position, as well as making his contributions felt on special teams once again.

 

In Part One of the series, Curtis Terry was in the works as the starting fullback.  That is no longer to be as he has apparently been passed up by Brandon Smith.  I have him as a key returnee at this position, but it now appears Mr. Terry will be a full time defensive end. 

 

Check back next week to find out if Curt is in the running at the safety position or something of the sort.  In all seriousness, Curtis seems to be a man still trying to find a position, but as a redshirt senior, time is all but up.  It has to be a very tough situation on the young man.

 

Joining Curtis Terry as a linebacker making a transition would be Jermale Hines.  Jermale will be moving to the safety position, hoping to make an impact rather than being lost in the log jam at linebacker.  Unlike Terry, Hines is only a sophomore, giving him plenty of time to make a name for himself at his new found position.

 

The line-backing corps is so stacked, that even incoming freshman Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat are making bids to see playing time.  That playing time will more than likely be on special teams, which will be a big help to a unit that was below satisfactory and far below Coach Jim Tressel’s standards.  Both Sabino and Sweat will be standouts at a linebacker position somewhere along the line, just not this year.

 

Wild Card

 

Now knowing that Ross Homan has locked up the weak-side slot, that eliminates him from ‘wild card’ contention.  As we all know, James Lauranaitis and Marcus Freeman will stay on the field for a majority of the meaningful minutes, which may leave Austin Spitler and Brian Rolle searching for minutes on special teams.

 

The player who may be the sleeper in the group is that of Tyler Moeller.  Tyler was in a dog fight with Homan for the weak side position, but lost out on the opportunity.  Don’t expect Tyler to be satisfied, as he may still find the field in certain situations. 

 

Ohio State employs a hybrid linebacker/safety position called the ‘star’ and Moeller may make more than a few appearances at that position.  Also, Moeller will look to backup Marcus Freeman on the strong-side, but don’t look for much playing time there unless it’s mop up duty.

 

Bottom Line:

 

The line-backing corps is the keystone of this defense, with two All-American candidates, and a bevy of talented reserves.  A person would be hard pressed to find a whole lot of negatives with this unit.

 

One glaring issue would be how these athletes are utilized.  If defensive coordinator Jim Heacock feels comfortable in letting these guys loose, it won’t be good for opposing offenses. 

 

Due to the strengths in coverage by both James Lauranaitis and Marcus Freeman, Heacock employs the zone quite frequently.  While it has had its successes, the zone has been vulnerable at times in big games.  If more schemes are utilized, the various looks from this dangerous defense will give nightmares to all they come across.

 

 

 

Looking at the front seven, obviously the biggest concern is that of the interior defensive line.  Expect the defensive tackles to make improvements allowing the linebackers to roam free. 

 

This unit should uphold their lofty defensive ranking from last season, and perhaps enter the discussion as one of the best defenses in Buckeye history.

 

 

 

Look for Part Four upcoming in the next few days in which I will preview the secondary and special teams.  Part One can be found here, and Part Two here.

 

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