Buckeyes defensive line should be a major strength
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) There might be some question marks elsewhere on Ohio State's defense.
The line, however, is expected to be the source of a lot of answers.
''The guys have really adapted and changed,'' said tackle/nose guard Michael Bennett, the only senior on the defensive front wall. ''We're getting after the ball. We're running to the ball-carrier and stuff like that. I'm really excited for where we're going to be. We're a lot - a lot - better than we were last spring.''
With Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Bennett up front and quality players behind them, the Buckeyes are hoping to erase the memory of a porous final few games to the 2013 season.
The defense gave up an average of more than 38 points and 539 yards a game over its final three games, including losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl - defeats which followed a school-record 24-game winning streak.
Seven starters are back from that unit, including everyone on the line. While replacements must be found for linebacker Ryan Shazier, cornerback Bradley Roby and safeties Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Corey Brown, almost everyone is excited about building the defense from the front back.
Head coach Urban Meyer was upset by the defense's play down the stretch. So he has stressed playing more quickly and instinctually this spring. New line coach Larry Johnson, a veteran from Penn State who took over when Mike Vrabel moved into the pro coaching ranks, has embraced the new approach.
The Buckeyes were embarrassed by their pass defense in those final three games. The line is trying to help the secondary out more.
''We want to be a factor in the pass game, no question about that,'' said Johnson, cut free at Penn State when Bill O'Brien became the head coach at Houston where he hired away Vrabel. ''So we stop the run and go right through the run (play) to the pass. That's the style.''
The players love attacking more and thinking less.
''We're working a little bit more on getting off the ball and getting penetration and trying to go make some plays in the backfield as opposed to kind of staying at the line of scrimmage and holding our blocks,'' lineman Tommy Schutt said. ''We're trying to create some havoc in the backfield.''
Bosa, who recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks a year ago as a freshman, has gone from prospect to building block in one year.
He said there's not much change in the Xs and Os from last year to this.
''It's just a different attitude,'' he said. ''The technique and stuff, it's all similar. I think it's just the attitude is a little bit different.''
Johnson was hired by and was a highly regarded sounding board for Joe Paterno at Penn State, serving on the Nittany Lions staff from 1996-2013.
The Buckeyes didn't take long to trust Johnson and to pay attention to what he was teaching.
''We want to be the best D-line in the country so we're going to do what he says,'' Washington said. ''If playing fast is what he wants, then that's what we're going to do.''
Leading up to Saturday's annual intrasquad scrimmage, a lot of players have been rotating in and out on the line. The goal, Johnson said, is to go eight or nine players deep and shuffle them in and out so that a fresh unit is always ready and able to compete against today's fast-paced, quick-snap offenses.
Johnson said that once he earned the players' trust, they took it from there.
''They believe in what we're doing,'' he said. ''They want to know how to get better - not to be good players, but how to be great players. There's a sense of raising the bar in the (meeting) room. And I'm really excited about that.''
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP