Strong Defensive Line Depth Aids in Replacing Noah Spence

By Mike Young on August 25, 2014 at 10:10a
Noah Spence will have to sit out Ohio State's first two games.

A combination of intrigue, fright and excitement surround the quarterback position, but the Buckeyes will also be without one of their defensive leaders.

Due to the stream of stories about Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, you might have forgotten about Noah Spence's situation. The junior defensive lineman will serve the remaining two games of his suspension during the Navy and Virginia Tech games after missing the Orange Bowl due to his positive drug test.

With Spence out, Urban Meyer mentioned three players who will take his snaps at the Viper spot.

"Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier are the two that will fill his spot, at this point," Meyer said, at a press conference, Aug. 16. "Jalyn Holmes is really making a push right now." 

Jamal Marcus filled in for Spence during the Orange Bowl, but transferred to Akron in July. Luckily, the Buckeyes have experienced options beyond Spence and the departed Marcus. 

Miller, the projected starter, played in 20 games over the course of his first three seasons at Ohio State. Last year, he played in nine games as Spence's backup and took 41 snaps in the Orange Bowl. He displayed some pass rushing prowess, recording three sacks. 

Even if Spence wasn't on the sidelines for the first two games, OSU's philosophy on defense would lead to increased snaps for Miller, Frazier and Holmes.

"You like to play eight to nine guys, who you feel can go in and contribute in the course of a game," said defensive line coach Larry Johnson. "You try to get 10 ready, five inside and five outside. You want to have a bonus guy who can play end – right or left – and an inside guy who can play nose or shade. If you can get that going into the season and someone goes down, you have a guy ready to go."

Meyer said Tyquan Lewis is in the mix at Viper, and might also be Joey Bosa's backup at the other defensive end spot. So, Lewis appears to be the "bonus guy" Johnson referred to. 

On the other hand, Frazier and Holmes are competing for playing time behind Miller and Spence, when he eventually returns. It might seem like there aren't enough snaps to go around, but Johnson expects a constant rotation of players along the entire defensive line.

"The game of football on the defensive line is about playing fast and a guy has to play at his maximum speed all the time," he said. "So, when you build some depth, a guy can go in, play 15 or 20 snaps in the course of the game and it's going to make you better defensively."

That depth will be crucial against an aggressive Navy offensive line, who will constantly cut block and, potentially, wear out some of the first-string Buckeye defensive linemen. 

"[Navy is] going to hold the ball, they want to get possessions and keep your offense off the field."– Larry Johnson

"You have to be very fundamentally sound and very disciplined playing that offense," Johnson said. "They're going to hold the ball, they want to get possessions and keep your offense off the field. We have to play good defense and be very disciplined in our assignments."

As difficult as the Midshipmen will be on the field, Ohio State is also facing issues in the weeks leading up to the game. First off, the coaching staff still has to integrate Spence because he will be back for the Kent State game.

Meyer removes Spence from the first string rotation in practice, but that doesn't mean he isn't an active participant.   

"When we go Navy period, which is pretty much every day, he's on the scout team," Meyer said. "We do keep him training with the ones on defense, though. Just not in the Navy period and, obviously, for Virginia Tech because he won't play in that one either."

The Midshipmen's unique, triple-option offense, which the Buckeyes won't see again this season, is another significant challenge for Ohio State. Meyer, Johnson and co-defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Luke Fickell have to delicately balance practicing for the triple option, as well as a traditional college offense.

More so than usual, Johnson emphasized proper technique. That is particularly important against Navy's disciplined attack.   

"It's a really complicated offense and they do it well," Johnson said. "Some people say 'they're not athletic.' Well, they're athletic enough to run their system and that's really important. It's going to be a great challenge for us."

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