After learning that I have viewed open practices and the jersey scrimmage, many people ask me what I think about the Buckeyes . Well, being that I write for this website, I thought I would take all of the thoughts that I share with various people and put them down for all of our readers to enjoy as well.

First up is the defensive line (with linebackers and defensive backs to follow later in the week and the offense next week).

General

After losing three defensive backs, two linebackers, and two defensive linemen, including first rounder Cam Heyward from the 2010 squad, the defense looked like it would be a concern heading into 2011.

At the very least, there would be many question marks that needed answers.

Good news, the question marks have been answered and the defense is far from a concern.

Since the very first practice the starting group of silver bullets has been set and they have been good.

As the saying goes, everything starts up front, and the 2011 defense in no exception.

Defensive Line

Johnathan “Big Hank” Hankins

#52 Sophomore, DT/DE

6’3″ 335 lbs.

Big Hank won’t lead the team in tackles this season, but he very well could be the most important player on the defense. His conditioning from last season is light years advanced, and he should be able to stay on the field for much longer stretches in 2011.

What makes Hankins so special is that he demands a double team every snap, opening up play-making opportunities for everyone else on the field with him.

Fail to double team him and he will be in the backfield, quickly. Double team him and he still moves the line of scrimmage and disrupts the offense.

Hankins has played everywhere from the ’1′ technique tackle to defensive end during practice, making him even more difficult for offenses to keep tabs on and contain.

Big Hank will have a monster season in 2011 and it will be fun to watch.

John “Sandman” Simon

#54 Junior, DE/DT

6’2″ 270 lbs.

If Big Hank weren’t demanding double teams every play, John Simon almost certainly would be (pick your poison offensive lines, pick your poison).

Simon combines the strength of a defensive tackle with the quickness to cause problems on the edge. The combination makes him a terror for offensive linemen to deal with.

On top of everything else, Simon’s motor never stops running, and he looks to be a more than capable replacement for Heyward at strong side defensive end in 2011.

Nathan Williams

#43 Senior, LEO

6’3″ 255 lbs.

Williams will be entering his fourth season in the defensive line rotation, making him the most experienced player this season.

In addition to experience, he also brings plenty of explosiveness and versatility. As the LEO, he basically is a linebacker that blitzes over 50% of the time and provides support in pass coverage the rest of the time.

Williams moves around pre-snap on almost every play before shooting a gap or dropping into coverage, making him the very experienced and very good X-Factor in the defensive rotation.

Garrett Goebel

#53 RS Junior, DT

6’3″ 290 lbs.

Goebel is a workhorse DT in the mold of Tim Anderson and Dexter Larimore of defensive lines past, complete with a stellar background in high school wrestling.

He plays the ’1′ technique (over the center) tackle position most of the time, meaning that his job will primarily be to occupy blockers and keep the LBs clean and able to make plays. This also means that his stats won’t jump off the page, making the workhorse tag even more appropriate.

As a RS junior, Goebel has been in the system and in the trenches for some time, and while not as flashy as some of his teammates, he will be a huge part of the rotation this season.

Adam Bellamy

#93 RS Sophomore, DT/DE

6’4″ 302 lbs.

A ‘do everything’ utility man on the line, Bellamy can and has replaced every position other than LEO during practices. He rotates in so much that he might as well be the 5th starter, which is huge for depth and keeping the rotation fresh in the middle of games.

With a great bull rush and just enough finesse and quickness to keep offensive linemen honest, Bellamy has the potential to turn into a Cam Heyward like presence along the line down the road. As a redshirt sophomore, he is still relatively young, but 2011 very well could be his breakout season on the road to a very bright future.

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J.T. Moore

#50 RS Freshman, LEO

6’1″ 252 lbs.

With such an experienced player ahead of him on the depth chart (Nathan Williams), it has been somewhat surprising to see how much time Moore has spent with the first team during practices (which occurred even before Williams was limited by a minor injury). It is even more surprising when you consider that Moore is only a RS freshmen and will continue to get better.

He has clearly made a huge impression on the coaches during practice, and he gets extra work running with the first and second team which will help him out in the long run.

J.T. Moore looks like the future for the Buckeyes at the LEO position, and Solomon Thomas may have a hard time earning his playing time back upon returning from suspension if practice is any indication.

Joel Hale

#51 Freshman, DT

6’4″ 305 lbs.

Joel Hale participated in spring practice, giving him a huge head start learning the system  heading into fall camp. With his head start and his pedigree out of high school, it has been no surprise to see him as a mainstay in the two deep at tackle since the first day of practice.

Hale primarily plays as the ’3′ technique, and like John Simon and Johnathan Hankins before him, his freshmen campaign will very likely be a glimpse of great things to come as he rotates in.

His lack of experience could be a concern during Big Ten play, but the ability to rotate in and out behind the starters should allow him to acclimate without being over his head (along with the rest of the freshmen to follow).

Michael Bennett

#63 Freshman, DE/DT

6’3″ 280 lbs.

Only a true freshman and only in his third week of practice as a Buckeye, Bennett rocketed up the depth chart during camp and has solidified himself in the two deep primarily behind John Simon at strong side defensive end.

The most impressive thing about Bennett is his explosion off the line, although this causes problems at times when he gets too deep into the backfield, opening up cutback lanes for the offense.

If Bennett can combine his elite quickness off the line with assignment sound football, he will be yet another linemen able to make a splash in their first year in Columbus.

Evan Blankenship

#68 Senior, DT

6’3″ 288 lbs,

After being buried on the offensive line for the first part of his career, Evan Blankenship has finally found a home as the ’1′ technique tackle on the second team defensive line.

While he isn’t flashy or exciting, his job will basically be to not get pushed around at the point of attack. He should be more than capable of doing that, making him a solid but not spectacular member of the rotation.

Darryl Baldwin

#90 RS Freshman, DT/DE

6’4″ 290 lbs.

Baldwin rotates with Joel Hale as the primary ’3′ technique DT on the second team. In what is likely the first time in college football history, I would be shocked if Baldwin isn’t listed significantly shorter than his actual height. In person he is one of the tallest players on the defense by quite a bit.

His best days are likely still ahead of him, but based on practice, he will see the field this season.

With his size (particularly his height), he reminds me of former DT/DE Doug Worthington.

Melvin Fellows

#91 RS Sophomore, DE/DT

6’5″ 270 lbs.

In his still young career, Melvin Fellows has been hit by the injury bug more than you would like to see anyone go through.

After moving into the two deep during practice, an unknown injury prevented him from participating in the jersey scrimmage this past Saturday. With his past issues, you just hope to see him stay healthy enough to be a part of the rotation this year and start to show his significant talents on the field.

If healthy, he will provide solid depth.

Solomon Thomas

#98 RS Senior, LEO

6’5″ 255 lbs.

Not only is Solomon Thomas suspended for the first five games, he has been limited in practice and on the sidelines so far this camp.

He can obviously make plays as demonstrated by the Sugar Bowl finale that clinched the win for the Buckeyes, but it will be interesting to see how he works back into the rotation given the moves that some of the younger players at LEO are making in his absence.

Steve Miller

#88 Freshman, LEO

6’4″ 245 lbs.

Another true freshman that has rocketed up the depth chart, Miller is perhaps the most surprising instant impact player on the defensive line during practice. With the depth at the position, particularly when Solomon Thomas returns from suspension, not many would have guessed that Miller would be seeing the field this season.

He may still take a redshirt, but at the same time, he has impressed the coaches enough to get time with the first team, so only time will tell whether he sees the field in 2011.

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Some may think that having two true freshmen featured so prominently in the two deep would be a problem, but given the contributions of true freshmen the past few seasons (Simon, Hankins) and the very clear talent demonstrated by these two, I am not concerned.

With these guys in the trenches, the Silver Bullets look to be on their way to another season of defensive domination.

Once again, stay tuned for an in depth look at the two-deep for each position on defense and offense next week- just in time for opening kick-off next Saturday.