D-line leading way in spring practice

D-line leading way in spring practice

Published Apr. 5, 2012 8:35 p.m. ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Five practices and a little over a week into spring practice, we don't know a whole lot about these new Ohio State Buckeyes.

In what's become football-speak along the lines of "we need all 11 guys" and "the game is won in the trenches," the Ohio State defense is ahead of the offense at this point. In both of new coach Urban Meyer's winner/loser days, the defense has won.

"They'd better win," Meyer said.

The Buckeyes are wearing pads and making progress. From two short Meyer news conferences, he seems to really like his defensive line. His top concern, however, seems to be his offensive line.

That's both good and bad. Games are won in the trenches, remember?

Meyer said Ohio State's first-string offensive line has been "adequate." As for the backups?

"We have a problem," he said.

The defensive line is strong and due to get stronger when several highly-touted freshmen arrive in June. For now, it's a veteran group with both established and emerging talent. Sophomore Michael Bennett has cracked the first unit. Meyer said sophomore Steve Miller has "really made a big jump."

Anchoring the defensive line are two guys who could be first round picks in the NFL Draft a year from now. One is John Simon, who's going to be a senior. The other is the slimmed-down Johnathan Hankins, a rising junior.

"There are two guys on defense really disrupting things, and they are Simon and Hankins," Meyer said.

Simon lines up at left end mostly, but he can line up at any position across the line. When he's at left end, he's often matched up with first-team right tackle Reid Fragel, who's never been a tackle before and is moving down from tight end. Going against Simon can only make Fragel better, which can only make the offensive line better as a whole.

Simon has been so good, both on and off the field, that Meyer has already decided he'll be a team captain. That's no surprise; Simon was a captain last season, too.

Bennett last summer did what Meyer is hoping the freshmen who aren't here yet will do this summer: Make flash plays even while feeling their way through things. He played in all 13 games in '11 and had three sacks and five tackles for loss.

"Luke (Fickell) was higher on Bennett than I was coming into this," Meyer said. "But I can see it on the field now. He's doing really well. He's hard to block."

The Buckeyes defensive front could also welcome back a familiar face. Nathan Williams got a medical redshirt after playing in just one game last year. Like Simon, he's a proven producer and a guy who can play multiple positions. Williams has been doing limited drills in spring practice. He won't have contact or go full speed, but Meyer said he's making progress.

"We need him," Meyer said.

Meyer wants the offense to catch up soon, and he thinks it will. He said the growing pains are normal. As for Braxton Miller, Meyer said he "has to be better" but that a quarterback is a product of those around him. He wants the line to be better, and he's called out the receivers.

Senior tight end Jake Stoneburner is actually spending a lot of time working with the receivers. Meyer said sophomore Evan Spencer has been the most consistent of that group thus far.

"We're not where we need to be," Meyer said. "I'm not upset. I just wish we could grasp it a little faster."

The winner/loser days at practice will continue. The head coach, presumably, will continue to demand results.

In a little over two weeks, the spring game will be played. Meyer plans for a game-like format. A crowd of 90,000 might be there.

"That's one of the great things about being at Ohio State," Meyer said.