January 7th, 2008. The scene is the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Where as a year a half earlier the venue came to represent rebirth and recovery in city that needed both in the worst of ways when the Saints returned to take on the Falcons, the chance for one of the college teams on the field that evening to overcome an infinitely more trivial crisis of confidence loomed ominously.
Perhaps the one thing standing in the way between Ohio State's redemption march down Bourbon Street would be the play of the interior defensive line, which had been an under addressed Achilles heal of the team all season. If Ohio State was to keep LSU's balanced offensive attack at bay, the Bucks would have to have consistency at the tackles in order to prevent LSU halfback Jacob Hester from cheaply extending seemingly doomed drives.
The Bucks would have no such luck. Much as Rashard Mendenhall, Daniel Dufrene, and Juice Williams were able to punch the football up the gut at will to extend scoring opportunities for Illinois in the Buckeyes' previous only other defeat, so too were the Tigers' stable of running backs. While the 152 rushing yards surrendered to the Tigers failed to match hemorrhaging of the 260 allowed against the Illini (which granted 80 of came on a broken play Dufrene took to the house), the inability to keep the LSU offense off the field ultimately proved the Buckeyes disproving. While Nader Abdullah and Todd Denlinger's spirit were willing, the flesh was unable to fight off blocks and finish tackles when opportunity most necessitated it.
|FR||Baldwin, Bellamy, Fellows, Hankins, Moore|
Fast forward to the 2010. This year's incarnation brings to the table a savvy fourth year vet who watched Hester's bowling ball act from the sidelines. Then freshman Dexter Larimore, a former all-state wrestler, had shown flashes of brilliance that season before injuries curtailed his season. While Larimore has found himself time and time again bothered by the injury bug throughout his Ohio State career, with increased depth making the potential for being spelled more commonplace as opposed to a luxury as often was the case in the past, the potential to make it through an entire season unscathed might be all it takes for the DT to finally fully realize that potential he first showcased in 2007.
In the realm of infinite potential, few true freshmen defenders outside the likes of Laurinaitis have ever entered a Jim Tressel oversaw defense and looked like such a natural fit the way sophomore likely starter John Simon has. The Cardinal Mooney product showed the composure and timing of a veteran in virtually all instances of playing time he saw during his first year with the Buckeyes last season. Simon is perhaps most notable to casual fans for being fawned over as a relentless workout warrior including specifically the hyperbole that he's "the only D-lineman with a six-pack". Assuming the work ethic pays dividends in terms of an ability to dodge injuries and stay on the field, there's little doubt the John Simon may just finish as the most highly regarded Ohio State defensive tackle since the likes of Kenny Peterson and Ryan Pickett.
When either Larimore or Simon head to the sidelines, expect a pair of Class of 2009'ers to see most of the meaningful snaps. Another newcomer who saw action at times last season, sophomore Garrett Goebel, and redshirt freshman Adam Bellamy alike have both been drawing high praise this summer. While getting an athlete the caliber of John Simon out of the mix to do what he does best may never seem like the best idea in principle, having tackles of the caliber of Goebel and Bellamy ready and willing to pick up the slack and provide much needed rest for the front line as needed is a luxury Ohio State's been without for sometime.
Defensive end is perhaps the position most befitting of an historic level of depth the 2010 edition of Buckeyes bring to the table. While recent years have resulted in the all-conference likes of Thaddeus Gibson, Vernon Gholston, and Will Smith, this year's incarnation brings the same level of physical specimen with high first round money written all over him and supplements them with a collection of talent capable of starting at BCS conference schools across the country. All-everything future millionaire Cameron Heyward leads the group, and merits mention that his unique physical abilities also afford him the ability to rotate into the interior of the defensive line on an as-needed basis. Heyward's unrivaled combination of speed, agility, strength, and acumen should equate to plenty of frustrated opposing offenses and fan bases alike as well as inflated stat lines for his running mates across the defensive line.
Torch a Dumpster If
John Simon is half as good as we think he's capable of being; Safari Planet turns into Animal Planet's "Most Dangerous Animals on Earth"; Cam Heyward develops a mean streak.
Avoid Sharp Objects If
Holds and chop blocks are legalized; Cameron Heyward discovers StarCraft 2; Michigan secondary level attrition afflicts the group.
The other defensive end position should primarily be occupied by junior Nathan Williams. Williams, who seemingly found a way to get his hands on the quarterback every time he found himself on the field in 2009, will look to make the guest-QB-sacking appearances a more regular part of the Ohio State defensive routine this year. While Williams went down with a knee injury this past Saturday, all reports out of the practices since have indicated he should be cleared, amped up, and ready to go at near a hundred percent in time for the season opener against Marshall.
The principle understudies on each end of the defensive edge come in the form of redshirt frosh Melvin Fellows and junior Solomon Thomas. Fellows, aka "Safari Planet" as he's come to be known, could have every potential to sneak up on opposing defenses the very same way Williams did last year. His physical gifts and size also provide the flexibility to come from multiple defensive line positions and bring more headaches to the other teams' signal callers. Thomas, who's literally grown up before our very eyes going from 215 pounds to rapidly approaching 240 during his time on campus, brings a combination of long arms and sneaky speed to the table that allowed for him to record seven sacks in a single jersey scrimmage a year ago. Thomas also notably frustrated offensive linemen throughout this last April's Spring Game.
There's little questioning the war chest of defensive line talent Jim Heacock and Tressel will have at their disposal this Fall. While injuries are a seemingly unavoidable facet of the game, if even a majority of this group can keep off the training table and stay on top of lifeless opposing quarterbacks, there's no doubting this unit might be amongst the very best nationally, if not the best in Tressel's 9 years at the school.