Every coach in the country talks about the value of a productive defensive line. Urban Meyer had one of the best in the past decade. The 2006 Florida defensive line pounded opponents into submission, overpowering offensive lines and rendering quarterbacks – even Heisman Trophy winners – irrelevant.
Troy Smith and Ohio State found out the hard way.
Meyer believes the 2014 Buckeye D-line could be just as fruitful. The likes of Derrick Harvey, Jarvis Moss and Ray McDonald could evolve into Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence. For all the chatter about Meyer’s offenses, it’s defense that’s always won him championships.
On that warm night in the desert nearly eight years ago, Smith was battered on seemingly every snap. The overwhelming Heisman winner was sacked five times, recording minus-29 rushing yards and completing just 4 of 14 passes. The 41-14 loss to Florida marked one of the darkest days in Ohio State’s proud history.
During the 2014 season, the Buckeyes hope to inflict similar pain on Michigan State, Michigan and whatever teams they might encounter in the College Football Playoff.
“This [line], if they all perform and stay healthy, could be at that level,” Meyer said, comparing them to the 2006 Gators. “It’s game-changers upfront.”
The unit contains depth and is stockpiled with five-star talent. Bennett, the lone four-star recruit among the starters, thought the defensive line could have been special last season but something was missing. There were issues with playing 80 snaps per game, a trend that’s now gone with Mike Vrabel exiting for Houston.
When asked about Bennett, who’s projected as one of the top D-linemen in the 2015 NFL Draft, Meyer commented about a tale of two seasons. In the first half, Bennett was an All-Big Ten player, Meyer said. But that changed dramatically over the final part of 2014.
“This is his last call. He could be as high as an early draft pick to a free agent,” Meyer said. “That’s up to him.”
Larry Johnson’s constructed top-flight lines for almost 20 years. The name on his hat may have changed, but the coaching technique remains untouched. Turning already high-end players into first-round draft picks is the norm for Johnson. Bennett, Bosa, Spence and others will discover that quality also traveled to Columbus.
“We have a ridiculous amount of weapons,” Bennett said. “Everyone can pass rush, everyone can stop the run.”
Braxton Miller sees the faces of Ohio State’s defensive line on a daily basis. He too is impressed with what the Buckeyes have at their disposal to harass other quarterbacks. There’s a combination of strength, acceleration and fundamentals that offensive coordinators dread.
“We want the fast players,” Meyer said.
Adolphus Washington would quality as fast. He’s also an enigma. The 6-foot-4, 288-pound lineman is moving to the interior this season. There’s an infinite amount of potential, so long as Washington’s health cooperates.
Many of the same prospects that accompany Washington into this season existed one year ago. But a groin injury sidelined him, and Bosa emerged as one of the best freshmen in the country. So Washington now finds himself inside, which enhances the pass rush.
“If he ever gets it all figured out, he could be as good as any I’ve ever had,” Meyer said. “He’s still a work in progress.”
For the first two games, Ohio State will be without Spence’s high-intensity motor due to a failed drug test. The line will miss Spence’s team-high eight sacks, but they’ll also get a sneak peek at who will be reliable when called upon. There’s no secret to Bosa’s worth. As a true freshman, he tallied 44 tackles and 7.5 sacks.
Historic numbers at Ohio State are often among the best in the nation. That notion was true in regard to Bosa’s first-year production.
Together, Bosa, Bennett, Spence and Washington form a quartet not to be taken lightly.