How will the Ohio State defensive line look next year, and who are the top candidates to step in for Larimore and Heyward? Let's look at how the roster will look in 2011.
Johnny Simon: Simon impressed as a freshman in 2009 in limited duty, and played well this year as a full-time starter, but he can get a lot better. Also spent time lining up at defensive end in 2010, and that could happen again next year. FORECAST: Simon will be asked to elevate his game to help make up for the loss of Heyward and Larimore.
Johnathan Hankins: Maybe the most pleasant surprise of the entire team this year was the play of Hankins, who shined in a limited role. Can he take his game to the next level, with double the amount of snaps next year? FORECAST: Should be a starting defensive tackle, and will be needed to take more snaps.
Garrett Goebel: It wouldn't be entirely accurate to say it's now or never for Goebel, but the clock is ticking for this former Brew Crew member. Goebel has always looked good in practice and scrimmages, and even in game action, but now is the time he needs to step up and claim extended playing time inside. FORECAST: Probably not enough reps for both Goebel and Adam Bellamy, and both will be fighting for game action.
Adam Bellamy: Has gained the trust of the coaching staff, and received meaningful playing time this year, both inside and on the edge. Great quickness off the ball, but needs to get stronger at the point of attack. FORECAST: The battle between Bellamy and Goebel should be an intense one over the next year.
Evan Blankenship: Where does he fit in this mix, and does he stay at defensive tackle? FORECAST: Could see action on either side of the ball, but must be looked at as a scout team player until further notice.
Joel Hale: Would seem to be a sure-fire red-shirt candidate for 2011. FORECAST: Will probably see the true freshman use the year to get stronger and learn the system.
Michael Bennett: Does he stay at defensive tackle, or move over to guard? FORECAST: Have to think Bennett's future is on the defensive line, and the true freshman should be able to red-shirt unless he proves to better than Goebel and/or Bellamy.
Chase Farris: Maybe the most intriguing prospect in the 2011 recruiting class, because he could project at so many different positions: defensive tackle, defensive end, offensive tackle, tight end. Body by Chrysler.FORECAST: Have to think Farris assumes a spot in the defensive line, and tries to mirror the career of Cameron Heyward.
Nathan Williams: We've seen flashes of his vast potential, and is 2011 the year Williams puts it all together and produces a 12-sack season? Was never totally healthy in 2010, although he still had a fine season. FORECAST: With Ohio State sorely lacking a consistent pass rush, it falls to Williams to take his game to the next level, if the Buckeyes are to be a national title contender.
Solomon Thomas: Saw extended playing time early in the year, before falling out of the rotation. Will Thomas be the senior that steps up his game, and becomes a starter? There is much inexperience in this area, and Thomas becoming a reliable contributor is needed. FORECAST: Thomas is being counted on to be a contributor in 2011.
Melvin Fellows: Looking for that one player to stay 100% healthy, and show his potential in 2011? It has to be Fellows, and he is one of the keys for next year's defense. When healthy, he has shown in practice he can play at a high level. FORECAST: The perfect strong-side defensive end candidate to play opposite Williams, if his health cooperates.
J.T. Moore: Probably the most advanced of the young defensive end projects. Moore is odd-sized, but reportedly turned heads late in the year in practice. FORECAST: Is he a tweener, or a player?
David Durham: Another end that is classified as a project, and also does not possess perfect measurables for the defensive end spot. Body size screams linebacker, but the skill set is for defensive end. FORECAST: Can he move up and get meaningful minutes in 2011?
Darryl Baldwin: Project #3 on the defensive line, but there are no questions about his size. Baldwin looks the part, and has the measurables, so now it's time to see if he's a player. FORECAST: If Baldwin ever reaches his potential, Ohio State would have a heck of a player on their hands, because he is physically gifted.
Steve Miller: There just might be playing time available for the true freshman defensive ends, and if so, Miller is the one most ready to play. FORECAST: Ideally, all the freshman defensive ends would red-shirt, but that is probably dependent on Fellows and/or Keith Wells.
Ken Hayes: Not as ready to play as Miller, but the potential for stardom is there. FORECAST: I do not see Hayes on the field in 2011, barring a rash of injuries at the position.
Keith Wells: Ohio State would love to see this physical freak back in uniform, and playing to his potential. Wells has the talent, and supposedly is working on his reinstatement. FORECAST: Ohio State would love nothing more than to see Wells roaming around come spring practice.
There will be a lot of uncertainty on the defensive line heading into the 2011 season, and most of it comes from a lack of experienced players, not a lack of talented players. Having either Fellows or Wells grabbing the free defensive end spot would be huge for Ohio State.