With a wealth of depth returning on the defensive front, big things are expected from a group comprised of ends Thaddeus Maximus, Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Wilson, Nathan Williams and Rob Rose joined by interior returnees Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger. Throw in names like Garret Goebel and Willie Mobley and you've got some live bodies competing for playing time. From my perspective that just leaves two simple questions.
One, can this group overcome existing injuries and avoid new ones to be a standout unit?
Two, are we safe in assuming this group can achieve great things, if healthy, considering we had the same high expectations for last year's offensive line only to watch them perform a sieve impersonation on a fairly regular basis?
There's obviously no way to know if this group will avoid the injury bug but they are certainly due to catch a few good breaks on the health front. Goebel and Rose have been nicked up recently and I know we're all rooting for Lawrence Wilson to stay on the field after back to back seasons cut short due to major injuries and not just because we're all softies but because he's shown skills worthy of starting, at least in my eyes.
A healthy Wilson also gives the Buckeyes impressive depth at the end spot. The spring three-deep doesn't list #87 since he's not participating in drills but you have to think he'll challenge and possibly reclaim his starting spot awarded to Ironhead's Boy last year. At worst, Heacock has what appears to be a nice four-man end rotation with Thaddeus Maximus a clear starter on one side and Wilson, Heyward and Williams playing hungry in search of extended snaps. And what of Rob Rose? I don't think he's going to separate himself from the rest if he hasn't by now but who knows.
On the interior, Larimore and Worthington appear to have a firm grasp on starting spots but Garrett Goebel has caught Heacock's eye thanks to significant improvement from last season and I still think Heyward is a bigger asset inside as opposed to the edge.
Even with all this depth and experience, the question as to whether or not this year's defensive front will be a strength is still a valid one after being burned by last season's o-liners. As we learned, just because guys are coming back with experience, that's no guarantee they've improved or have the hunger to be great. The fact that the success of this year's defense will hinge largely on how effective the guys up front perform enabling the development of some green players at linebacker, corner and nickel seems like deja vu all over again -just on the opposite side of the ball.
Luckily, I'm an optimist and think the actual returning talent is greater than what we saw from last year's o-line and I'm certain more leadership will be provided from guys like Wilson and Maximus.
So what do you think? Do you agree this group might have the largest influence on the outcome of the season? And do you think they'll live up to the hype?