Bennett Looking To Lead Buckeyes

Ohio State defensive lineman Michael Bennett intends to show his strong performance to end last season against Michigan was just a hint of things to come. He enters his junior season trying to hold down a tackle spot and lead some of his younger teammates as well.

Michael Bennett is not afraid to say this is a big year for him.

Neither is the Ohio State defensive lineman's position coach, Mike Vrabel.

"We need Michael Bennett," Vrabel said. "We do. Michael Bennett needs some confidence in himself, and he's gaining it. He had a good day today, he went hard. Michael has to stay healthy. He has to take care of his body, and it's not easy in there, but we expect him to do that." That suits Bennett just fine, and he looks forward to answering the challenge.

Of course, that was generally true last season, too, and things did not exactly go as planned.

A four-star recruit at traditional Ohio high school power Centerville, Bennett arrived at Ohio State three years ago as a highly regarded but raw defensive line prospect.

He played both ways for the Elks, but concentrating on defense seemed to agree with Bennett as a college freshman when he played in all 13 games for the Buckeyes and totaled 17 tackles. Five of those stops went for a loss, including three sacks.

Bennett won a starting job last spring and was set to play a prominent role at defensive end last fall with senior Nathan Williams questionable in his return from major knee surgery, but it turned out to be the youngster who had bigger health problems throughout the course of the campaign.

A groin injury knocked Bennett out of the opener and bothered him for much of the season, but Williams' ability to play much more than even he had expected possible meant fellow senior John Simon could slide down to the strong-side end spot Bennett was slated to play if healthy.

Bennett ended up playing in parts of eight games, but he got healthy just in time. When a knee injury forced Simon out of the season finale against Michigan, Bennett stepped into the starting lineup and held his own as the Buckeyes shut down the Wolverines for most of the day.

"I would like to say I haven't played up to my potential yet," Bennett said. "Last year I was coming off some injuries. I think I did all right against that team up north, but I didn't do as well as I should have.

With Simon and Williams having exhausted their eligibility, Bennett knows there is a focus on him to grab a starting spot and excel this season. He has no complaints about that.

"I'm going to be hard on myself and my coaches and teammates are going to be hard on me, but hopefully this year I play up to my potential," he said.

Bennett finds himself in a new position this spring, having been asked to slide inside to the 3-technique tackle spot vacated when star Johnathan Hankins opted to leave school a year early to enter the NFL draft.

"I go where the team needs me, and right now they like me in the 3-technique so I do everything I can to produce and let the young guys do their work on the outside," he said.

Weighing in the 285-290 range, Bennett admitted he might be somewhat undersized for the position, but he was not about to complain.

"Well, 3-technique is fun in its own way, but it's also a lot harder for a smaller guy to play it," he said. "At the same time, it's a good challenge and it's a definite way for me to make a mark on the team."

The position he is more worried about at this point in time is one of leadership, something that did not come as a surprise to writers who have covered Bennett and observed the biology major's thoughtful manner of answering questions.

"People step up when the team needs them to step up, and I feel like I need to step up in a leadership position, but we have other guys on the D-line who are stepping up and filling that leadership role, too," he said, mentioning fellow junior linemen Joel Hale and J.T. Moore.

"It's just a fact that we lost four starters, but the guys (we're replacing) were great leaders so we learned a lot from them last year. We tried to carry that all winter. It was a team trying to develop leadership roles, and coach stresses that we're a younger squad so we have to bring a lot of energy and a lot more enthusiasm so that can be our calling card."

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