Two years ago the New York Giants shocked the world by upsetting the undefeated New England Patriots en route to a Super Bowl XLII victory. While the team was filled with offensive stars like Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Plaxico Burress, and Jeremy Shockey, it was the defense, more specifically the defensive line, that was given credit as the unit that helped Tom Coughlin's team unseat Bill Bellichick's squad at the top of professional football's ranks.
The 2007-2008 New York Giants team sent a common message to all football coaches, players, and fans across the nation after their big win in January 2008: Defense definitely wins championships. The Giants formula of having versatile players playing interchangeable parts on their defensive line and in their linebacking corps produced great results in getting to opposing quarterbacks and creating pressure on those players to have to make quick decisions of what do with the ball. This strategy and philosphy of Steve Spagnuolo's defense is what enabled the Giants to be so good on the defensive side of the ball and hide inadequacies that may have been existent on the team.
Although Spagnuolo is gone to coach James Laurinaitis and the St. Louis Rams, the Giants still employ this philosophy and with a defensive line unit that consists of Osi Umeniyora, Justin Tuck, Matthias Kiwanuka, Fred Robbins, Barry Coefield, Rocky Bernard, Jay Alford, and Chris Canty, among others, Big Blue still claims the deepest and most talented defensive line in the NFL. It is a unit that not only relies on talent, but on teamwork and buying into a system that will help each individual as well as the team succeed on a weekly basis.
So where does all this chatter bring us, you ask? The answer: The 2009 Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes defensive line is not only the strength of the 2009 Silver Bullets, but it is the best defensive line unit in the conference and one of the tops in the entire country. When looking at the New York Giants and their recent defensive line success, I cannot help but think about the similarities between those teams and the potential of Jim Heacock's unit this year.
At defensive end, the wealth of depth is at an all-time high. Thaddeus Gibson brings tremendous athletic ability and the skills to be a consistent force as a pass rusher, while Cameron Heyward, starting opposite Gibson, has the brute strength and smooth athleticism to be a force getting to the quarterback and stuffing the run. Like Tuck for the Giants, Heyward can even be moved inside, particularly on passing downs, and play defensive tackle, giving way to Lawrence Wilson, Solomon Thomas, Keith Wells, Rob Rose, and Nathan Williams who have some major talent to contribute.
At defensive tackle the Buckeyes parallel the 2009 Giants in that both units will utilize a rotation that will keep players fresh and present different looks. Doug Worthington and Dexter Larimore will be the starters for OSU this year, while Todd Denlinger, Garrett Goebel, and freshmen John Simon and Adam Bellamy look to rotate in and share their skills. The tackles have had some trouble in the past, but with the effective pass rush on the outside, coupled with off-season improvement, look for this unit to take a big step forward this year.
With effective defensive line play, new doors are opened up for other parts of the defense to succeed. Pressure is taken off of the linebackers to break off their own blockers and make plays as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. This is very important for a young unit who is trying to find an early season cohesiveness and takes on some very good running backs in early opponents Navy and Southern California. In addition to helping the linebackers out, any weaknesses in the secondary will be helped out as quarterbacks will have less time to decide where to throw the ball and will not be able to make their passes as strong or as accurate as they would like. This certainly will help Andre Amos and Devon Torrence who will be seeing major playing time for the first time in their careers.
The similarities are there. The talent is there. The chance to be great is there. The 2009 Ohio State Buckeyes can be college football's New York Giants and if they play their cards right they have the potential to be the best defensive team in the country, even rivaling the 2002 National Championship team's defensive unit. The big game flops Ohio State has had the last few years can be partially attributed to losing the game in the trenches. This is where games are decided. This year, OSU has the advantage in those trenches and must utilize their strengths to buck the trend of big game losses and return to college football prominence. The parts are in place, it's just up to the players to make it happen.