One of my biggest pet peeves in football is when a team cannot rush the passer. When a QB can stand in the pocket all day long and pick apart a defense, it gives your team very little chance of success. For anyone who watched Ohio State’s defense this season, to say they struggled at times would be an understatement. They had problems in almost every facet this season. Rushing the passer? Check. Tackling and LB play? Check. Coverage (especially Travis Howard)? Check. Now you may be thinking, why are you picking on the defensive line when the defense as a whole struggled? The answer is that a good defensive line makes all the guys behind them look better. A perfect example is the New York Giants this season. Their defense has been ravaged by injuries, but they were still able to make the playoffs partially because their defensive line is so good (and Victor Cruz is just disgusting).
According to cfbstats.com, Ohio State’s defensive line had a grand total of 15 sacks in 2011. John Simon had 7, Michael Bennett had 3, Johnathan Hankins had 2, and three others each had 1. I’m sorry, but these numbers are unacceptable for Ohio State football. A big problem I noticed throughout the season was the lack of natural pass rushers. Players like Michael Bennett, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel, and Adam Bellamy are fine as rotational interior linemen. But when it’s 3rd and long these guys don’t scare the opposing offensive line at all. This is when the Vernon Gholston’s of the world come out to play.
So what does Urban Meyer target as soon as he’s named the head coach at Ohio State? Pass rushers. In his first couple weeks on the job he landed commitments from All-American defensive ends Noah Spence and Se’Von Pittman and All-American defensive tackle Tommy Schutt. Additionally, in the weeks prior to him being named head coach they also landed All-American defensive end Adolphus Washington, who stated during his announcement ceremony that he expected to play for Urban Meyer (so he had some influence there as well). These are the building blocks for what could potentially be a very dominant defensive line in the near future.
Now of course it’s unrealistic to expect all these recruits to come right in and start right away so let’s take a look at the guys coming back for Ohio State. The two biggest names are John Simon and Nathan Williams. Williams didn’t play a down this past season due to knee problems, but should be back at full strength for next season. Williams had 4.5 sacks as a junior and should be given an extra year of eligibility due to his knee issues. He was the most natural pass rusher Ohio State had on the roster and should be a starter come fall. I love Simon’s leadership and effort as you know you’ll always get 100% from him. Simon should be a captain next season and an All-Big Ten player once again. Johnathan Hankins (Jr.) and Michael Bennett (So.) should be heavily involved in the rotation as both of them offer unique skill sets. After those four, I think the battle for playing time is on. Several young players already on the team offer some potential including Steve Miller, Chase Farris, Kenny Hayes, Joel Hale, and Darryl Baldwin. Any of these guys could be in the mix next season and it’ll be interesting to see who emerges from this group. In obvious passing down situations it’s going to be tough to keep Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington off the field though. Spence had 22 sacks as a junior in high school (50 total in his career) and Washington had 22.5 sacks as a senior. These guys can ball. It’s still early and it’ll be interesting to see who emerges throughout the spring practices, but I guarantee you’ll see a rejuvenated defensive line for Ohio State this fall.