UCF Notebook: DL On Spot, Walk-On Shines

In this week's premium notebook we take a look at the depth along the OSU defensive front, a walk-on who has the respect of the head coach, the state of the Heisman race and more.

Ohio State's first look at a strong running game this season comes Saturday in the form of a Central Florida squad that overpowered Akron in a season-opening 56-14 win.

That would seem to play into the hands of a Big Ten team such as Ohio State, but head coach Urban Meyer sounded genuinely concerned about the state of his defensive line while finishing up preparation for the Knights this week.

With 13 scholarship players, depth is not an issue. Ten of the Buckeye front-liners were four- or five-star recruits, so talent is not a concern, either, but health and experience are questions early in the season.

Only four of the players – seniors Nathan Williams, John Simon and Garrett Goebel and junior Johnathan Hankins – are upperclassmen. Williams is still being handled with care as he returns from major knee surgery, and sophomore starter Michael Bennett is doubtful to play this weekend because of a strained groin.

Another sophomore – J.T. Moore – started in Bennett's place last week against Miami (Ohio), but he ceded many plays to Williams because of the RedHawks' pass-happy offense.

A trio of highly regarded freshmen – end Noah Spence and tackles Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington – played extensively in the second half and drew positive reviews.

Spence and Washington both had sacks while Schutt controlled the inside of the line and made three tackles.

"I don't think it's just about sacks," defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said Monday. "I think it's about production. You watch Tommy Schutt, he played physical at the line of scrimmage, played double teams, got off blocks, had a tackle for loss and a couple tackles in the run game so we're excited about his efforts.

"Adolphus certainly shows flashes of knowing really what to do and how to do it and then other times he kind of gets lost and stands there like 18-year-old kids have a tendency to do.

"Noah continues to work and continues to build. There's a lot on his plate with special teams and what we're asking him to do defensively. Those guys were in here this morning and I think they're going to just continue to get better and help us."

Too Early For Heisman Talk
Despite acknowledging each time that it was too early for such a thing, multiple reporters asked Meyer and quarterback Braxton Miller about the player's early candidacy for college football's highest individual honor – the Heisman Trophy.

Not surprisingly, both coach and player brushed it aside. "Oh gosh," was Meyer's first response while Miller simply replied that he needs to keep working hard and concentrating on the Buckeyes' next opponent.

Such a response is par for the course with Miller, whose parents stressed early on the importance of being humble despite numerous accolades that have rained on him from an early age. If that weren't the case, Meyer said the grueling nature of practices – particularly "Bloody Tuesdays" – should do the job.

"Any thoughts of anything other than that practice, we'll have to make them harder, so there will be no discussion of that," Meyer said. "I think he's one of those freaks of nature that has a lot of ability and great things can happen to him. But there won't be billboards posted anywhere or anything like that."

Walk-On Earns Praise
Craig Cataline, in the meantime, was a subject Meyer was happy to discuss this week. The walk-on fullback from Grandview Heights, Ohio, earned a spot on special teams during preseason camp and had a tackle in the season opener.

"Great story," Meyer said. "He was in the Navy. I love the guy." Not surprisingly, Meyer said the 6-2, 226-pounder exemplifies the coach's philosophy of acting like a man to earn the right to be treated as such.

"It's what you would imagine a guy that served in the Navy for a while," Meyer said. "He's tough as nails. He's completely committed, has incredible discipline and just goes a hundred miles an hour. I wish he was more athletic, because we'd find a way to get him on the field more. He's got some talent and he's tough.

"Our players love him. He's the only one that will go after Simon's tail now, and it's kind of fun to watch."

No Curve From Vrabel
Williams' ability to play about 30 snaps in the opener came as a pleasant surprise, but Vrabel was not in the mood to give him a pass when it came to assignments.

The senior had quarterback Miami quarterback Zach Dysert in his clutches on one play in the first quarter but could not bring him down. Dysert got away and threw into the flat for running back Justin Semmes, whose path to the end zone was clear. He dropped the ball, though, and the RedHawks ended up settling for a field goal attempt.

He was open because Williams had eschewed his duty of covering him, choosing instead to go for the sack.

"I told Nathan, 'You get a minus for not doing your job and you get a minus for missing the sack,'" Vrabel said after reviewing the film. "God love him, he can tell you whatever he wants, but he knows he was supposed to cover the back. Listen, I'm glad he was out there. He had some energy and some enthusiasm, he played with some toughness, and I think it was a big confidence builder for him to get out there. He was pumped and he was excited to do it." 

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