2015 Season Preview: Defensive Line Rotation Spots Still Up for Grabs

By Michael Citro on August 27, 2015 at 10:45 am
Ohio State Football 2015 Season Preview

If there’s one unit Urban Meyer would like to see improve this season it’s the depth from his defensive line. This spring Meyer spoke about how disappointed he was in the young players on the line and said that unit has to get better. A lack of viable backups hurt Ohio State’s rotation last year, and overtaxed starters Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Steve Miller. When you add the losses of Bennett, Miller—and Miller’s backup Rashad Frazier—to graduation, there’s a lot of work to do and it magnifies just how precarious the D-line situation was in Columbus last year.

Luckily for Meyer, the starters stayed healthy.

The returning starters are Bosa and Washington. Bosa, last year’s Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year, and a unanimous All-American selection, was the focal point of the team’s championship defense. His 21 tackles for loss led the Big Ten and tied him for fifth nationally. Despite being double-teamed on nearly every play, the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder from Fort Lauderdale, FL, finished fourth in the country in sacks (13.5), and made 55 total tackles (with 39 being solo stops). He also scooped up a fumble and scored in Ohio State’s rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.

Washington, an honorable mention All-B1G selection by the media, played somewhat out of position as a nose tackle in 2014, allowing Bennett to have extra space to make plays. But Diesel still made 48 tackles (25 solo), with 4.5 sacks and 10.5 TFLs. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Cincinnati Taft product started his OSU career as a defensive end, and is better in space, where he can use his explosiveness and speed. Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Luke Fickell and Defensive Line Coach Larry Johnson plan to move Washington into Bennett’s spot this season if they can find a suitable replacement at nose tackle. That’s where things get tricky.

Ohio State defensive linemen
Player No HT WT YR Hometown
JOSHUA ALABI 58 6-5 295 FR Detroit, MI (Cass Tech)
JOEY BOSA 97 6-6 275 JR Ft. Lauderdale, FL (St. Thomas Aquinas)
JASHON CORNELL 9 6-3 265 FR St. Paul, MN (Cretin-Derham Hall)
CHRIS FONG 70 6-2 260 SR Troy, OH (Troy)
DAVON HAMILTON 53 6-4 300 FR Pickerington, OH (Pickerington Central)
JOEL HALE 51 6-4 295 SR Greenwood, IN (Center Grove)
MICHAEL HILL 77 6-3 295 SO Pendleton, SC (Pendleton)
JALYN HOLMES 10 6-5 265 SO Norfolk, VA (Lake Taylor)
SAM HUBBARD 6 6-5 265 FR Cincinnati, OH (Archbishop Moeller)
DRE'MONT JONES 86 6-3 280 FR Cleveland, OH (St. Ignatius)
ROBERT LANDERS 57 6-1 290 FR Dayton, OH (Huber Heights)
TYQUAN LEWIS 59 6-4 260 SO Tarboro, NC (Tarboro)
DONOVAN MUNGER 52 6-4 300 SO Shaker Heights, OH (Shaker Heights)
AARON PARRY 62 6-5 275 JR Zanesville, OH (Bishop Rosecrans)
TOMMY SCHUTT 90 6-3 290 SR Glen Ellyn, IL (Glenbard)
DARIUS SLADE 42 6-4 255 FR Montclair, NJ (Montclair)
TRACY SPRINKLE 93 6-3 290 SO Elyria, OH (Elyria)
DYLAN THOMPSON 94 6-5 275 FR Lombard, IL (Montini Catholic)
ADOLPHUS WASHINGTON 92 6-4 290 SR Cincinnati, OH (Taft)

Tommy Schutt, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound senior from Glen Ellyn, IL, is in the process of locking down the starting nose tackle slot. The first high school senior to commit to Meyer’s program at Ohio State, Schutt has had some injury struggles that have hampered his collegiate career. He started a game as a true freshman against Central Florida and another as a sophomore against Illinois, but has had trouble maintaining his spot due to various knocks, including foot surgery as a sophomore. He finished last season as the No. 2 defensive tackle, behind Bennett, registering 10 total tackles (eight solo) and a tackle for loss. Meyer called Schutt one of the team’s most improved players in camp.

"Schutt's had a good camp," Meyer said. "He's really handled himself the right way and he's had a really good camp."

Vying for a spot in the interior defensive line rotation is 6-foot-4, 300-pound sophomore Donovan Munger out of Shaker Heights, OH. As a freshman, Munger made five tackles (two solo) in 10 appearances. Though he didn’t get a ton of playing time, the staff thought enough of him to give him some snaps in the Sugar Bowl, making him the only reserve interior lineman to see any snaps against Alabama.

If Munger can’t take the spot, it could go to sophomore Michael Hill (6-foot-3, 295 pounds) out of Rock Hill, SC, or senior Joel Hale (6-foot-4, 295 pounds), a former D-line starter who voluntarily converted to offensive line last year. Hale sustained a calf injury in the spring and is still slowly working his way back.

An intriguing battle has been going on for the defensive end spot opposite Bosa. With the departure of both Miller and Frazier, sophomore Jalyn Holmes (6-foot-5, 265 pounds), out of Norfolk, VA, and Sam Hubbard (6-foot-5, 265 pounds), a redshirt freshman who is an athletic, converted linebacker out of Cincinnati Moeller, should both get some reps.

Holmes saw action as a true freshman, tallying 11 tackles (six solo) and a TFL in nine games. Hubbard is a former high school lacrosse standout who turned down a collegiate career in that sport at Notre Dame to play football for Ohio State. He helped lead Moeller to back-to-back state titles his final two seasons there, totaling 109 tackles and five interceptions as a senior. Meyer has been talking Hubbard up since late last year.

One player who should see the field in the defensive end rotation is sophomore Tyquan Lewis (6-foot-4, 260 pounds) out of Tarboro, NC, who saw action in 13 games in 2014, making nine tackles (three solo) and 2.5 tackles for loss, including half a sack. Lewis impressed with his explosive play in the 2014 Spring Game but couldn’t quite make the leap into regular playing time during the season. Then again, being Bosa’s backup may have had something to do with that. Bosa will miss the first game due to suspension so it could be Lewis’ time to show the coaching staff what he can do with extended meaningful snaps.

Other young players who could push to make the two-deep include redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson, a Lombard, IL, product who broke his kneecap just before his freshman season last year (although he has yet to be cleared for contact); Darius Slade, a surprise 2014 commitment out of New Jersey on National Signing Day who redshirted last year; Tracy Sprinkle, a sophomore out of Elyria, OH; and true freshman Jashon Cornell, a defensive end out of Minnesota who enrolled early and went through spring camp. Among those looking for playing time will be true freshmen Josh Alabi, Da’Von Hamilton, Dre’mont Jones (who is still rehabbing an ACL injury sustained last season), and Robert Landers, who was one of the first newcomers to have his black stripe removed.

Walk-ons Chris Fong and Aaron Parry provide additional depth along the defensive line.

The availability of spots in the defensive line’s rotation this fall has made for some intense battles in camp and some of those position fights could last into the 2015 season. That atmosphere of competition is exactly what Larry Johnson wants for his group.

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