Like many of you, I am still soaking in the euphoric feeling of seeing Ohio State finish undefeated in Urban Meyer’s first season at the helm. This is only the program’s sixth undefeated, untied season in their storied history. Take a second to think about how amazing that truly is. Reality barely set in before the “number one closer” in the game reeled in a consensus top three recruiting class and one of the best this school has ever seen.
After witnessing all of these tremendous accomplishments, it is hard not to look ahead to next season. The final seconds hadn’t ticked off the clock during the game against that team up north before people started talking about a National Championship in 2013. As Ohio State fans, we’re spoiled. We expect to go to a BCS game every year and compete for a National Championship. This is why Urban Meyer is able to get the players that he does. However, let’s take a step back and examine how this team is going to replace the starters that they lost along their defensive front.
Many fans don’t realize that Ohio State has to replace six starters from their defensive front seven. Six out of seven! Sure, their defensive line classes these past two years are loaded with talent but talent doesn’t necessarily replace experience and leadership.
Replacing a player like John Simon is much easier said than done. Likely to step in at defensive end is true sophomore, Noah Spence. Athletically, Noah Spence is arguably more gifted than Simon – that is not my concern. We have all heard Urban Meyer talk about John Simon as if he were a god. He has repeatedly said that Simon was the leader of the 2012 football team and possessed a work ethic second to none. These are qualities that no one, not even Meyer himself, can teach. I’m interested to see who will come out ahead and earn a spot as Spence’s backup when Ohio State releases their initial “Two Deep Roster”.
Opposite of John Simon, Nathan Williams was one of the more talented players on this Ohio State team. It really is a shame that he was limited due to injuries throughout his entire career because had he been healthy, he would be one of the all-time greats to play for the Buckeyes. Adolphus Washington seems to be the early favorite to replace Williams as the other starting defensive end largely in part to his stellar performance against projected first round draft pick, Taylor Lewan, in “The Game”. Washington played a lot of defensive tackle throughout the season showing his versatility as well.
The other anchor of this defensive line, Johnathan Hankins, decided to leave early for the NFL after three seasons with the Buckeyes. Hankins was a rare breed, weighing in around 330 pounds but moving like someone half his size. Like Simon, he was a nightmare for offensive linemen and was often double teamed, allowing Garrett Goebel to make the tackle. I’m guessing that Michael Bennett will step in and take Hankins’ spot. Bennett has always been highly regarded by both Ohio State coaching staffs but has been limited due to injuries.
Ohio State is also losing Garrett Goebel, their other defensive tackle. Goebel has had a strong career with the Buckeyes but has always been in the shadow of Hankins. The Ohio State coaches seemed more than pleased with the play of Tommy Schutt throughout his freshman season, and probably feel comfortable using him as a replacement for Goebel. Don’t be surprised to see an off-season battle between Schutt and Joel Hale for the starting job.
Predicting the 2013 linebackers is much more difficult. The good news for Ohio State is that they didn’t lose any spectacular players at this position. Etienne Sabino was very good, but never great. Everyone is well aware of the unique transition that Zach Boren made from fullback to middle linebacker. What Boren did was nothing short of remarkable, but it’s safe to say that he probably doesn’t have an NFL career at linebacker in his future.
Any guess as to who will step up and start for this 2013 Ohio State team would be a complete shot in the dark. A lot of people assume that Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, both highly touted recruits from this 2013 class, will immediately come in and start. I tend to believe that these people are wrong. When a team signs a great recruiting class most fans seem to forget about all of the other players on the bench that are fighting to earn a starting role. They immediately assume that these talented high school athletes are ready to play for a major college program, which generally isn’t the case.
Joshua Perry has a great chance to start this year. He was Urban’s go-to guy when Etienne Sabino was injured. Defensive coordinator, Luke Fickell, seems to think that Perry has matured the quickest of the group, from 2012’s strong linebacker haul. Don’t count Curtis Grant out either. Although he has been unable to live up to the hype of being the number two overall recruit coming out of high school, he has the most experience to go along with the talent.
One thing we know for sure is that Ryan Shazier is back, and I’m willing to bet this helps Meyer and company sleep at night. He will be one of the best players in the nation, and will play a key role in getting the younger guys acclimated to their positions. The video below says it all. If it doesn’t get you pumped up you should probably have someone check your pulse.
Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. A lack of depth at defensive line prevented USC from living up to expectations this past year and I’m scared that it could hurt the Buckeyes as well in 2013. However, their schedule is the easiest we have seen in years and probably the easiest we will see for a long time. A weak schedule brings even more critics. Don’t think for a second that a one loss Ohio State team will be playing for a national championship. For the 2014 season, in addition to a tougher slate of games, the Buckeyes will have to replace at least four offensive linemen and most of their defensive backfield so let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that this will be the year that the stars align.
Ryan Shazier’s sophomore highlights.