Ohio State has been spoiled by some outstanding play in the defensive trenches recently. Whether you look at the incredible depth and experience of the 2009 group or the individual performance of Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore in 2010, the defensive line has been one of the primary sources of success for Buckeyes.
Needless to say, the 2011 D-line has some big shoes to fill and some lofty standards to live up to. With significant losses across the board, the defense will be a major rebuilding project in 2011. As usual, that rebuilding project will start up front.
The Buckeyes do return several veteran players (Nathan Williams, John Simon) as well as some young talent that will look to take their game to the next level (Adam Bellamy, Garrett Goebel, Johnathan Hankins). However, depth may be a problem as the two deep will be filled with players that have very little game experience, particularly at defensive tackle.
Then again, compared to 2009, depth may be a concern every season. Re-loading the defense has never been an issue at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes should have no problems finding new stars to replace the old ones.
Here is a run down of the players looking to make some noise in the trenches in 2011.
#43 Nathan Williams
6’3″ 260 lbs.
After logging significant playing time every year since he was a true freshman, Nathan Williams will be the most experienced player on the defense and one of two returning starters on the defensive line.
An early favorite for captain, he didn’t even file paperwork to test the NFL waters because it would be a “waste of time” since he planned on coming back regardless of his draft projection.
Williams plays the weak side defensive end (or LEO) position, and he acts as a defensive end/linebacker hybrid on most plays. He is a speed rusher off the edge, but can also drop back into coverage like a linebacker as needed.
Williams’ versatility and experience will be a huge asset in 2011 as the coaches look at creative new ways to get their best talent on the field.
#54 John Simon
6’2″ 270 lbs.
The other returning starter on the line, John Simon has also earned significant playing time since he was a true freshman. A monster in the weight room, Simon has been translating his amazing work ethic off the field into some outstanding performances on it.
With the versatility to play in the middle or on the edge, Simon will be a one man wrecking crew for the Buckeyes in 2011.
#93 Adam Bellamy
6’4″ 295 lbs.
The early favorite to replace Cameron Heyward at strong side DE, Adam Bellamy will have the biggest shoes to fill on the defensive front. He received playing time in all 13 games last season, but didn’t make much noise until the bowl game.
Bellamy was a big part of the constant pressure on Mallet in the Sugar Bowl, and why not save your best for last? If Bellamy continues to improve like he did throughout the regular season and into the bowl game in 2010, he should capably fill Heyward’s shoes next season… with a chance to make a huge impact himself.
#52 Johnathan Hankins
6’3″ 335 lbs.
One of the primary contenders to replace Dexter Larimore at DT, Johnathan Hankins is literally the largest defender the Buckeyes have had in some time. In addition to his size, Hankins may be one of the most gifted players as well. He could turn into a monster defender for the Silver Bullets but conditioning and stamina appear to be an issue.
As the season progressed in 2010, his appearances in games decreased, presumably because of conditioning issues. After being one of the most promising young players in the spring and fall, his lack of production late in the season was a bit of a disappointment. Still, he was only a true freshman, so it is important to keep things in perspective. He has all off-season to work on his conditioning and the finer aspects of the game of football.
If Hankins puts in the work this offseason, he will be a major factor in the D-Line rotation in 2011 and a potential star.
#53 Garrett Goebel
6’3″ 281 lbs.
The other primary contender to replace Larimore at DT, Garrett Goebel has been in the system for three years and is a more typical DT for the Buckeyes. A stand-out wrestler in high school, he brings great quickness and leverage to the line of scrimmage.
The lightning to Hankins thunder, the two should provide a helluva one-two punch at the very least.
#98 Solomon Thomas
6’5″ 255 lbs.
One of the suspended five, Solomon Thomas will be the oldest member of the rotation next season. Despite his seniority, outside of his huge interception at the end of the Sugar Bowl, he hasn’t made much of an impact on the field throughout his career.
Still, you can’t teach experience, and Thomas has logged time in 25 games, including two starts. When he returns from suspension, he will become another solid part of the rotation, most likely behind Williams at LEO.
The Buckeyes also have a handful of young players, none of which have any game experience to speak of. Regardless, they will all be looking to make their way into the rotation.
LEO: #50 JT Moore (6’1″ 246 lbs. RS FR), #33 David Durham (6’1″ 231 lbs. RS FR)
DE: #91 Melvin Fellows (6’5″ 249 lbs. RS SO), #90 Darryl Baldwin (6’4″ 267 lbs. RS FR)
Incoming Freshman: Kenny Hayes (6’5″ 240 lbs.), Steve Miller (6’4″ 230 lbs.)
If you are keeping track, that is a whole lot of defensive ends and not so many defensive tackles. The Buckeyes have a few options to deal with this lack of tackles.
One solution may be moving some players to the inside. Darryl Baldwin is a prime candidate for this move, along with one of the incoming offensive lineman (Antonio Underwood, for instance).
Another option is utilizing a 3-4 look on defense a majority of the time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a hybrid system involving three ‘down’ linemen with the LEO moving around pre snap.
With so many players that can play on the inside or outside, the coaches have plenty of options for who they use as their ‘down’ players and plenty more options for who to use as the roving LEO.
The hybrid 3-4 look is just one formation to mask the lack of DTs, but it is the most realistic one. The coaches have been experimenting with formations for years, and with limited numbers of true tackles, a move to the 3-4 wouldn’t be out of the blue.
One of the most exciting things this spring will be finding out what formations and schemes the coaches come up with to get their best talent on the field (3-4 or otherwise). With the players at their disposal, they will have plenty of options… as long as those options don’t rely on numerous defensive tackles.