There really isn't much of a debate when it comes to figuring out the strength of Ohio State's defense in 2017.
The Buckeyes should be rather dominant along the defensive line. With an impressive crop of talent at defensive end and plenty of bodies to rotate on the interior, Ohio State feels like it could have one of the best units in all of college football.
"This is kind of different," defensive line coach Larry Johnson said this spring. "Interchangeable guys, guys can do different things. I can take a defensive end and put him at three-technique, rush the passer. Put a guy at noseguard."
"I think that is what makes them really special, they can all move up and down the line of scrimmage. When you can do that, you can get the right matchups that you want."
We'll start at defensive end where head coach Urban Meyer believes Ohio State will be "as good as anybody in America" at the position. That became possible the moment Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes all announced they would return to Columbus for another season. Each had the option to turn pro early, but the fact the Buckeyes brought back all three gave them a major boost heading into the 2017 campaign.
Those three along with Nick Bosa give Ohio State four players at the position who could seemingly start for any team in the country.
“I've played with a lot of great individuals but I don’t think collectively there’s ever been this much talent at this position since I’ve been here,” Hubbard said. “We have four guys that could start on any team in the country and we’re all playing together so it’s pretty amazing.”
Those four will be the main catalysts, but sophomore Jonathon Cooper and five-star freshman Chase Young could also see themselves in the mix — as can Rashod Berry. Finding enough snaps for all of this talent will be Johnson's biggest challenge.
At defensive tackle, Dre'Mont Jones leads the way as the redshirt sophomore emerged last season and carried that over into the spring. Meyer said Jones "is really turning into a fine player for us" and he figures to play a big role on the interior of Ohio State's defensive line.
Next to him at nose tackle are Robert Landers and Michael Hill. The Buckeyes have two players they feel quite confident in there. Davon Hamilton suffered an injury this spring, but also saw some action last fall. The return of Tracy Sprinkle also gives the Buckeyes another body they're going to heavily rely on.
The group of interior linemen on Ohio State's roster may not be at the same level as the four defensive ends, but there is certainly both quality and depth. The Buckeyes should be dominant up front.
Ohio State recorded just 28 sacks during the 2016 season — a number that ranked just seventh in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes felt they had a solid year up front but perhaps left a few potential game-changing plays out on the field.
That's why Johnson said this spring one of Ohio State's biggest points of emphasis on the defensive line was to improve the pass rush. The Buckeyes have the elite level players to make it miserable for opposing offenses but now they need to take that next step and have their production match the talent level.
There's no reason to think that won't happen. Ohio State's defense in 2017 will be at its best if it's dominant up front like it should be.
"I think that there will be the depth to rotate, that is one thing that we will be able to do," Johnson said. "It is just a matter of a combination of when we are going to use them and how we are going to use them. Just moving through to fall camp, we will make that decision. From the spring game, it just shows that we have the depth, now just how we are going to use it."