It’s what’s up front that counts for Buckeyes’ D
All anybody around Ohio State wants to talk about is the spread
offense being molded by new coach Urban Meyer.
Tucked away in the corner of the Woody Hayes practice field in
the August heat is the real backbone of the 18th-ranked
John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel, Adam Bellamy and
Nathan Williams aren’t household names – even in households with
scarlet-and-gray fan caves. Yet it is the defensive front that
determines how rapidly the Buckeyes can erase an awful 2011 and
start looking to the future.
No one around the program wavers on the strength of the
”It’s going to be up front. We know that. It’s got to be,”
said Luke Fickell, interim coach of last year’s 6-7 team and
returning as the defensive co-coordinator this time around. ”Those
guys have got some experience and we’ve got a little bit of depth
Funny, but the offense is helping the defensive line get better.
Every day in August, the front wall has had to not only shut down
but also keep up with Meyer’s hurry-up offense. That has served to
get the unit ready for many of the spread attacks already in place
in the Big Ten, but has also helped to get those five – who average
6-foot-4 and 281 pounds – in extraordinary condition.
”Even our big guys have to run around constantly, not getting
breaks, not subbing in,” said Simon, the ”Leo” end. ”So we’re
definitely going to be one of the best conditioned defensive lines,
best conditioned defenses, in the country. That’ll help us.”
They are far from cookie-cutter copies of each other. The
soft-spoken Goebel fills the hole at nose tackle alongside the
talkative and popular Hankins, dubbed ”Big Hank” as much for his
potential (11 tackles for loss last year) as his 317 pounds.
Williams, who is penciled in as co-starter with Bellamy at the
other end, barely played last season and didn’t participate in
spring drills because of microfracture surgery on his knee. He
appears to be making progress and could be ready early in the
Bellamy and Hankins are both juniors with 26 games already under
their sizable belts. The backups include big sophomore Michael
Bennett and the intriguing Chris Carter, a 6-4, 358-pounder who was
originally recruited as an offensive lineman but has been switched
to the other side. He’s still learning the position, but has shown
flashes of being a force.
Simon is the clear-cut leader of the group, a confident and yet
accommodating quarterback-terrorizer who led the Buckeyes a year
ago with seven sacks and 16 tackles for negative yardage. He and
Goebel were both among the top vote-getters for captain earlier
No wonder Meyer has been effusive in his praise of Simon and the
rest of the linemen.
”(No.) 54 is as good a player as there is in college
football,” the first-year Buckeyes coach said of Simon.
What’s more, those veterans are being pushed by an all-star cast
of freshmen that includes blue-chippers Noah Spence and Adolphus
”We’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of good freshmen who have all
the physical skills and are playing well right now,” Goebel said.
”They’ve just got to learn the defense a little more, take that
next step. It should be a good year.”
How much pressure the big guys up front apply can make a thin
group of linebackers and a solid secondary look worlds better.
”The fight in the trenches is where defense starts,” said
safety C.J. Barnett. ”With Johnny Simon and Big Hank in there, it
makes the job easier for everybody else.”
The line can also take a lot of heat off Meyer’s new
”We aim to be the best in the country,” Bennett said. ”I
think every D-line says that but we honestly can reach that.”
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