How Ohio State football adjusts to Joey Bosa's suspension constitutes one of many lingering questions about this football team before its season-opener against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Is Tyquan Lewis, a projected starter at the other end spot, a partial answer?
Ohio State will be without three key contributors at wide receiver and H-back against Virginia Tech but the suspension for Bosa may loom larger for Ohio State fans. Attrition hit the wide receiver corp hard after 2014, but Michael Thomas' star has never shined brighter during his time at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have also recruited well at wide receiver. The one-game absence of Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith may just lead to heightened interest in freshmen like Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill, and Terry McLaurin.
Braxton Miller's transition to wide receiver/H-back may also have fans forgetting about Dontre Wilson for the time being.
Bosa's suspension is more worrisome because his contribution to last year's national championship squad is outsized relative to his suspended peers. Bosa was a Unanimous First Team All-American last year and won the Big Ten's trophy for best defensive lineman. Bosa's ability to command double teams or special blocking assignments, combined with Adolphus Washington's gap-discipline and ability to do the same, allowed Michael Bennett and Darron Lee to thrive down the stretch.
This says nothing of Bosa's projected development toward an early-first-round NFL Draft selection as fans expect this to be Bosa's final year in an Ohio State uniform.
How will Ohio State mitigate the one-game absence to its star defensive end? Previously, we have touched on the importance of Tommy Schutt finally realizing the star potential he had when he signed with Ohio State in 2012. We have also talked about the understated brilliance of Adolphus Washington, whose versatility and team-first attitude were overlooked in Ohio State's evolution into an elite defense last year. Washington will be an important cog in the defensive line again this year.
Josh Perry may play at that position in stretches for the season-opener, though this may hinge on other factors like emerging depth at linebacker.
There is no single answer or great answer at the moment but the partial answers involve looking around Bosa with the assumption that others need to compensate for his absence. In this vein, another partial answer to questions concerning Ohio State's star strongside defensive end is a projected contributor at weakside defensive end, Tyquan Lewis.
Tyquan Lewis will enter his third year in the program. He redshirted his first year on campus and played 201 total snaps last year as a redshirt freshman. He had just nine tackles, 2.5 TFLs, and a QB hurry last season, all of which belie the potential contribution of a guy who Urban Meyer unequivocally named a starter just a few days ago.
Indeed, not much has been said about Lewis as fall camp is underway. Sam Hubbard, yet another promising Ohio State prospect coming off a redshirt year, may have gathered more intrigue from Ohio State fans. However, Tyquan Lewis' continued mentions as tentative starter by both Meyer and other media who follow the program suggest Lewis is poised for a productive year even after Bosa returns.
Fans should hope he is productive this year. Lewis' productivity will be critical to maximize both Bosa's big play potential in 2015 and how well Ohio State adapts without him against Virginia Tech.
In June, we outlined all the reasons why the Clowney-level hype for Joey Bosa will produce the same type of disappointment Jadeveon Clowney had in 2013. The absence of a star weakside defensive end opposite Bosa last year made Bosa vulnerable to late season adjustments from opposing offenses. As Bosa's name recognition grew, offenses neutralized him with double teams, triple teams, the threat of tight end support just to slow him a step, and sliding protection schemes in his direction. In the post-season run against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon, Bosa had just one tackle for loss even as Ohio State's defense more than compensated with excellent play elsewhere.
The loss of Noah Spence was a major reason for Bosa's inactivity relative to his games against Cincinnati and Penn State. Without a capable, speedy rusher opposite Bosa, offenses could shift protection schemes toward Bosa as his notoriety increased. Offenses could reliably block Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier (Spence's replacements) with just one man and focus on Bosa.
Michael Bennett's graduation compounds the issues of Bosa's name recognition and his suspension for the Virginia Tech game. Ohio State's defense rose to the occasion in the the post-season stretch because Bosa and Washington's ability to command double teams put Michael Bennett on an island and allowed Darron Lee to make plays at the line of scrimmage while keeping his shirt clean. Washington (or Tommy Schutt, should he play on the nose this year) may still be able to command double teams, but Bosa's absence makes the linebackers vulernable to protection scheme adjustments by Virginia Tech.
Ohio State fans ask who plays in lieu of the suspended Bosa but the identity and capabilities of the cast surrounding his position may be more pertinent. In particular, the hopeful emergence of Tyquan Lewis at the other end spot would address multiple concerns on this year's defense with and without Bosa. Without Bosa, a weakside defensive end capable of occasionally commanding adjustments from Virginia Tech in his direction protects Ohio State's other playmakers in the front seven, especially at linebacker. With Bosa, a capable weakside defensive end saves Bosa from a potentially disappointing junior season, given his hype and the attention he will command from offensive coordinators on Ohio State's schedule.
If Tyquan Lewis is the unquestioned starter at the other end spot from Bosa, Ohio State fans should be as concerned about what he can do this year as they are about Darius Slade, Bosa's projected backup and substitute this year. Ohio State fans should hope that Tyquan Lewis is the answer for the multiple questions they have about the defense this year.