An Unkind Offseason for the Ohio State Defensive Line

By Mike Young on July 7, 2014 at 11:00a

Many thought Navy's triple-option offense would be an early test for Ohio State's defensive line. As it turns out, the unit is having a tough time overcoming the summer of 2014.

Ohio State's staff already had to compensate for the loss of Noah Spence in the Orange Bowl after he tested positive for trace amounts of Ecstasy in his system. Jamal Marcus, who performed well in spot duty throughout the season, proved to be a capable replacement for one game. He couldn't prevent Clemson's Sammy Watkins from having free reign on every ball thrown his way, but Marcus did bat down a pass, recorded six tackles and was a consistent force in run support.

Combined with his performance in the Orange Bowl and the carryover from Spence's suspension for the first two games of this season, Buckeye coaches had to feel confident in Marcus' ability to step into the lineup and become a significant contributor in the defensive line rotation.

Establishing that deep rotation was among Larry Johnson's first tasks upon arriving in Columbus.

"I’ve sold them on the idea that there are going to be eight or nine guys," Johnson said, during spring practice. "The game has changed. You’re talking about spread offense, quick snaps, so that number of plays can go from 65 to 90 really quick. You add that times 12 games, that’s a lot of football.

“What I want to do is play fresh. I want to play eight or nine guys every time and be relentless. That way every guy can play as hard as they can every play. That's how you play defense.”

Strangely, despite this emphasis on increasing roles of backup defensive linemen, Marcus was a non-factor in spring practice. Steve Miller and Tyquan Lewis assumed most of his snaps. Eventually, we learned about the academic issues, which led to his departure.

Marcus' dismissal and his subsequent transfer to Akron left some question marks as to whom will replace Spence for the Navy and Virginia Tech games. Redshirt freshman Tracy Sprinkle wasn't necessarily thought to be a part of the mix, but his recent arrest and dismissal makes that unlikely. For his sake, the hope is he's cleared on all charges, which can lead to his return to the team. Based on Urban Meyer's methods of discipline since he arrived at Ohio State, Sprinkle would face a tough battle to earn respect back, assuming Sprinkle is completely innocent – because, if you remember, Meyer takes public urination rather seriously.

With the Buckeyes closing in on the beginning of fall camp, they'll move forward as if Sprinkle isn't a part of the roster. Beyond the experienced starters – Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington – OSU still has a wealth of talented, yet youthful group of linemen. Redshirt senior Rashad Frazier hasn't seen many in-game snaps, but he'll compete for Spence's fill-in.

Meanwhile, the staff's focus on adding depth in their last recruiting class appears to be a wise one. Freshmen Jalyn Holmes, Dylan Thompson and Darius Slade will be thrust into competition. Another misstep from someone ahead of them and they could be forced to take meaningful snaps. 

For now, there's no reason to be overly worried about how the defensive line depth chart will shake out. Increasingly, however, Johnson and the staff's ideal scenario and ability to rotate several guys in seems to be in doubt. 


Comments Show All Comments

holein1's picture

Not worried yet.  At this point, I'd just like to be sure we have some guys to take on those Navy blockers and get us through the non-conference slate.  If we can keep Bosa, Bennett, Spence and Washington healthy through November and soften their early reps, I love our chances.

+3 HS
11UrbzAndSpices's picture

a flexbone offense focuses more on downfield blocking, cutting DL or just getting in their way while others get down to LB. I think this is one of the better offenses to go against with a weakened DL. An explosive freak (Spence) can really disrupt things, but a good OC would just run around him.

"Quit skipping leg day bro" - Dr James Andrews

NuttyBuckeye's picture

We are without Spence for the first two games due the three-game suspension handed down late last year, correct?

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

11UrbzAndSpices's picture

1 or 2, yes. I still don't think he'd make much of a difference

"Quit skipping leg day bro" - Dr James Andrews

DefendYoungstown's picture

If you're referring to Spence, he was a dominate force on the D Line last year and you're dead wrong. He matters.

What we can't do in the air we'll do on the ground.

-1 HS
holein1's picture

NuttyBuckeye, Good point... I didn't even think about that

MN Buckeye's picture

I like Johnson's approach to rotating more guys to stay fresh. Even with the setbacks, the D-line is still one of the top strengths of the team, with more depth coming in the current recruiting cycle.

+1 HS
OSUMyke's picture

Although I would of Loved to have Marcus coming in off the bench I don't think we have anything to worry about with depth on the D-line the starters will wear an O-line down so quick in a game the backups will have no problem cleaning up when they get their chance.

Mike Cutlip

Stinson's picture

I'm expecting Sprinkle to be gone at this point. But Sprinkle or no Sprinkle, the D-Line is going to be fantastic.

Go Bucks

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

zebiraross's picture

Hopefully he can work through all this regardless if he's guilty or not. Even though they are big mistakes, they certainly aren't unforgivable


+1 HS
TraSmith4's picture

Just more reason to get Josh Sweat in Scarlet & Gray. He is so gifted he can play as a Freshman.

steveoz49's picture

Obviously I'm working waaaaay too many hours.  As I read this article, this is the first I've learned about Marcus.  I was wondering about him in the spring game and how I was never hearing of his name.  Losing Marcus and Sprinkle, on the cover, seems to be a significant loss... but this is why you recruit. 

theopulas's picture

Sweat will play as a freshmen.....he would start at most the Bengals....but he would get some time with OSU too.....


+1 HS
Buck Wild's picture

Don't forget Schutt, Hill & Munger (could be a good law firm) will definitely contribute this year. Would love to see Sweat joing the 2015 class...he is a #gamechanger... 

"I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying."
Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987

+1 HS
AlwayzABuckeye614's picture

Also Frazier, number 94 senior. 

+2 HS
Homey1970's picture

I'm excited to see Munger...6'4" and legit 300 lbs.  His name just sounds like a man who will rip off your head and hand it to you.

mtrotb's picture

Also, author failed to mention Joel Hale, a second stringer switched to offense in the spring.


cinserious's picture

Tracy Spinkle is officially dismissed from Ohio State. That sucks about Marcus too, he was going to be a good one. It just goes to show how you can have a wealth of talent at DL, LB, RB, etc. and keep stockpiling and then suddenly a few things happen and your thin! Its amazing.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

HotSauceCommittee's picture

Maybe this gets Booker an early look at DE. His body might need the extra weight for the long haul, but as a back-up being available and maybe seeing some time in the opening few games this could be an option.

Miller performed good in his limited time last season.

Gametime's picture

Booker would've likely been more in the Viper role as a stand up edge rusher, but he's only 6'3" 212lbs arriving on campus. He'd have to put on at least 30-40lbs to be an effective DE. 

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

Norwalk's picture

Young players will get a lot of opportunities this year. 38/81 scholarship players have freshman. As these kids mature over the next 3-4 years, it is gonna get crazy around here. I can't remember ever having that many young players on the team. Other than o-line our starters have experience...2-deep gets sketchy with a lot of reliance on potential.

Jabba1977's picture

I am very concerned about this situation!Hopefully it works out in our favor!!


-1 HS