Stat Session: Urban's Defensive Lines

By Chad Peltier on June 4, 2012 at 4:00p
Maybe what TP would have looked like as a DECarlos Dunlap, one of Meyer's most athletic DEs

In today's Stat Session, I'll be taking a look at the first defensive position group in this series, following my previous analyses of tight ends and running backs

So far I've concentrated on offensive positions because we can generally expect more differences in offensive skill positions than any other area of the team. Most notably, Ross has introduced us to offensive pivot players, including hybrid TE/FB/WRs and WR/RBs. 

In contrast, we can expect a much greater degree of continuity from the Fickell and Withers-led defense. In fact, Heacock and Fickell's defenses have been employing hybrid defensive positions and looks for years in order to counter the rise of the spread offense in the Big Ten.

We can largely expect more of the same, albeit with more quarters coverage, under Meyer in the future. 

Many argue that Urban's success at Florida, and the SEC's recent dominance more broadly, was largely built upon superior defensive line play. After witnessing this first hand out in Glendale in 2007, it's hard for Ohio State fans to argue with this analysis (sorry for bringing it up, everyone). 

The NFL certainly agrees that Florida's defensive linemen were elite, with 3 defensive tackles and four defensive ends currently on NFL rosters. 

Urban's emphasis on the defensive line was exceedingly evident in his first recruiting class at Ohio State, with four defensive linemen at an average 6.0 rivals rating. That means the class just about averaged five stars on the defensive line. 

My dataset is comprised of all UF defensive linemen in Urban's two-deep between 2006 and 2010. You may access my dataset here

I'm primarily interested in Urban's defensive linemens' physical attributes, production, and correlation with success. More specifically, just how elite were Urban's defensive linemen and can we expect any quantifiably significant differences under Urban's reign?

Physical Attributes 

Beginning with some basic physical statistics, Urban's defensive ends average 6'4.2" (with a standard deviation of 1.4 inches) and were an average of 258 pounds. 

His defensive tackles average 6'2.6" (with a standard deviation of 1.8 inches) and were an average of 294 pounds. The relatively high standard deviations can be roughly accounted for by the small samples sizes. 

And it's a good thing he is.Noah Spence wants to be Urban's next superior DE

The stereotype for most of Urban's defensive linemen (and the SEC's more broadly) was that speed was a more prized attribute than size, and the data certainly supports this for defensive ends, but not for defensive tackles. 

In his classic Finding the Winning Edge, Bill Walsh lists his ideal defensive end as 6'5" and 275 pounds and his ideal defensive tackle as 6'2" and 290 pounds. Urban's defensive tackles are almost exactly the same size as Walsh's NFL ideal, reflecting the fact that tackles generally have to meet a certain size requirement (especially weight) to be effective in the interior. 

Defensive ends, on the other hand, are able to have a bit more variability. Urban's ends are typically a bit shorter and a bit lighter than Walsh's NFL ideal, though he does not distinguish between strong and weakside ends in his analysis. 

Urban has a smaller average defensive end because of the typically smaller and faster weakside end position, or LEO (sometimes VIPER if primarily standup OLB). 


A couple of things stand out when looking at Urban's defensive linemen in total: 

First, Derrick Harvey, Jermaine Cunningham, and Carlos Dunlap (along with Jarvis Moss in 2006) were as elite as they come. These guys averaged double digits in TFLs and over seven sacks a season - elite numbers, even without looking at less-quantifiable metrics like quarterback pressure. 

Meyer generally had one older and one underclassman put up big numbers at end each season. There was no clear relationship between size and statistical production at DE, however. Jermaine Cunningham was one of the "smaller" (6-3 and 250) DEs that we might initially associate with the idea of speedy SEC linemen, while Dunlap was both huge and fast, at 6-6 and 290. 

Furthermore, while SEC defensive lines are known for their great depth and ability to constantly rotate linemen with little drop off in production, there was certainly a statistical drop off between the first and second string DEs. The second stringers rarely recorded more than 20 tackles or more than 2 sacks on the season, though this is likely just a function of variations in playtime. 

Further, hitting the two-deep as a freshman predicted a defensive linemen's future success almost perfectly. Urban has said

We don't redshirt here at Ohio State. We're changing that up. We're going to have the culture out here that there's no redshirting. If you don't play here, it's because you're not good enough. It's not because we're holding you back. We're going to recruit the kind of player where we want them on the field right now.

and this certainly seemed to be true for Meyer at Florida. If you've got the talent, you'll be on the two-deep, at least on his defensive line. Note, that doesn't necessarily guarantee huge numbers as a freshman, just "flashes." For instance, Carlos Dunlap cracked the two-deep as a freshman, but only put up one sack in 2007. The next year, along with gaining 50 (!) pounds, Dunlap added 39 tackles, 13.5 of which were for loss, and 9.5 sacks. 


These findings have several implications for our Buckeyes next year if Meyer's past trends continue. 

We'll likely see some of the elite freshmen hit the two deep. That's not a super bold prediction, but considering how amazingly deep this group of linemen is, it would be nothing short of amazing for a freshman to line up next to Hankins, Simon, Bennett, and the like. 

The freshmen aren't likely to produce killer numbers until their sophomore years, with the possible exception of Noah Spence, who has the potential to seize control of the LEO spot. I hesitate to speed up the hype train for this kid (as that's always a dangerous game), but if there's any position that really needs bodies on the line, it's at rush end. 

Otherwise, we're likely to see Meyer continue to recruit extremely similar looking tackles as we're used to. Heacock and Fickell were big fans of versatility on the line - Simon has lined up at almost every position, and even Big Hank has played some end - but Meyer's teams do have a quantifiable size difference between ends and tackles. It's possible we'll see this trend continue in the future, with Meyer loving the speed of guys like Pittman, Spence, and even Washington (though he might be a SDE when it's all said and done). 


Comments Show All Comments

Riggins's picture

I'm looking forward to the defensive line's transformation under Urban as much as I am the offense.  An elite defensive line, more so than any other unit (outside of QB), can win you games by itself.

buckeye76BHop's picture

This coming years D-line will be down right sick.  The future can only get brighter as far as talented D-lines are concerned at OSU.  Don't be surprised to see Noah, Adolph W, and Pittman to all see playing time if they can stay healthy...not to mention Schutt is a BEAST.  Urban is a master at this and don't feel bad for this Chad, "After witnessing this first hand out in Glendale in 2007, it's hard for Ohio State fans to argue with this analysis (sorry for bringing it up, everyone)."  That's something all OSU fans should have ingrained into their minds after that game because that's when I (and I'm sure alot of others who are just still too stubborn they won't admit it) wanted Urban as OSU's next coach after Tress (it just came WAY sooner than anyone expected).  And not because of FL's offensive dismantling of our defense due to good field position and lack of our offensive production. It was because of how dominating that defense was and especially the D-line Urban had assembled at FL.  It will be the steeple for why OSU will be back in 2012 and on.  

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

ShadyBuckeye's picture

Spence, Washington, Pittman, Bosa..... I know conventional wisdom tells you not all recruits pan out but I think those 4 will. Idk much about shutt or billy price and all those guys but those 4 are gunna be something, bosa and spence are monsters! Adolphus kinda has a bust factor but his upside is tremendous! Pittman was gunna go to MSU and tear it up there as their main go-to-guy on the D-Line. He will be the 4th option here! should make it even easier now that spence and the boys will take pressure off him, wont get double teamed. let the good times roll!

OldColumbusTown's picture

Not sure I agree or understand on the Adolphus "bust factor" though I know it is sort of splitting hairs.  You never know how a recruit will pan out, no matter how highly recruited he is, or how athletic he is.  I just don't see it happening with A-Wash.
He's unbelievably athletic, has a great motor, and is highly competitive.  It's not too often you see a man-child like him who is also the best HS basketball player in the state of Ohio.
When you think about the ability to put a group of Spence, Washington, Schutt/Pittman, and Bosa on the line together in passing situations... wow.  With that type of pass rush, we may be seeing record turnover numbers from a secondary of Woodard/Burrows, etc.

bassplayer7770's picture

When you mention the secondary, also don't forget Roby, Armani Reeves, etc.

Poison nuts's picture

D line coming up!

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

nmaxwell's picture

urban definitely gets props for the lines he recruited at florida (as well as what he pulled off here in a few short months), but it's interesting to note that most of the defensive line studs at florida were coached by mattison specifically.  that area is definitely a talent of his, and you couldn't ask for a better resume for a coordinator than his.  let's just hope he doesn't whip scUM's defensive line into shape too well...

timdogdad's picture

when are the new guys reporting to campus? very soon right?  pretty cool that  a. wash, spence and group will be suiting up in bucks practice gear in less than two months.  will be fun to read the practice reports.  guessing spence will cause many problems for o-lineman. 
almost into the phase of trying not to expedite summer to get to the season.    a good problem to have!