Coach: Larry Johnson (second year)
2014 BSB Final Grade: A-
For much of the season, the defensive line was top-heavy. The unit had performed well through the first six games, contributing 11½ of the team’s 16 sacks and 31 of 41 tackles for loss, but the bulk of those numbers could be traced back to defensive end Joey Bosa.
The sophomore lineman continued his dominance throughout the end of the season – he finished as a consensus All-American with 13½ sacks, just shy of the team record, and 21 TFL – but he got more help.
As the season wore on, teams continued to find creative ways to limit Bosa’s impact on a game, sliding protections toward him and leaving running backs in to help on the 6-4, 278-pound sophomore.
“They had two guys usually assigned to him,” head coach Urban Meyer said after the Michigan State game. “A lot of pressure on the other guys to hold up their end of the bargain. That's legitimate, when you hear they're putting a tailback to him or sliding to him. That leaves a guard and tackle to slide to him. That’s real, which is smart. That’s not going to go away.”
While that tactic remained in opponents’ offensive game plans, the rest of the D-line began to respond. Michael Bennett was far more productive after he switched to the 3-technique spot on the line for the MSU game as fellow tackle Adolphus Washington went to nose guard. The senior defensive tackle played inspired football at the end of the season and recorded six of his seven sacks on the season over the final seven games.
Washington, too, benefitted from the switch, recording 2½ of his 4½ sacks and four of his 10½ TFL after the switch.
“The coaches decided that they wanted me with more room to work,” Bennett said. “So they put me at 3-technique and (Washington) at nose. He has developed as a phenomenal pass rusher inside.
“He started thriving at nose. For whatever reason, that was where we fit best. It worked out really well.”
While the switch helped the two tackles improve their play, it coincided with a deeper defensive line rotation and more production from the unit’s lesser-known players.
Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier continued to split time at the end spot opposite Bosa, and Miller came through with a key interception that he returned for a touchdown against Alabama. Reserves such as redshirt freshman tackle Donovan Munger also began to see time earlier in games toward the season’s end, giving key rest to the starters and allowing them to perform at a championship level.
- 41 tackles, 14.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, three forced fumbles; first-team All-American at tackle
88 Steve Miller
- 34 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 interception (returned for TD), 1 forced fumble at end
17 Rashad Frazier
- 13 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery at end
97 Joey Bosa (6-5, 278, Jr.)
- 55 tackles, 21.0 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries, 4 forced fumbles, fumble recovery; unanimous All-American at end
92 Adolphus Washington (6-4, 295, Sr.)
- 48 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble at tackle
90 Tommy Schutt (6-2, 295, Sr.)
- 10 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 QB hurry at tackle
51 Joel Hale (6-4, 310, Sr.)
- Spent 2014 on the offensive line, where he received a redshirt for a back injury
59 Tyquan Lewis (6-3, 260, Soph.)
- 9 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 QB hurry in 13 games at end
10 Jalyn Holmes (6-4, 262, Soph.)
- 11 tackles, 1.0 TFL in nine games at end
52 Donovan Munger (6-4, 300, Soph.)
- 5 tackles, 1.0 TFL in 10 games at tackle
77 Michael Hill (6-2, 305, Soph.)
- 2 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack in four games at tackle
93 Tracy Sprinkle (6-3, 285, Soph.)
- No stats compiled at defensive tackle in limited action
49 Sam Hubbard (6-5, 244, R-Fr.)
- Redshirted in 2014 after stints at LB and TE
42 Darius Slade (6-4, 245, R-Fr.)
- Redshirted in 2014 in part because of injury
94 Dylan Thompson (6-4, 275, R-Fr.)
- Redshirted in 2014 because of a knee injury
Jashon Cornell (6-2, 261, Fr.)
- Scout four-star DE prospect; early enrollee
63/53 Michael Bennett (co-captain)
This one is fairly clear-cut – the Buckeyes need to find two starters and add depth at tackle. OSU rode Bennett and Washington fairly hard last year, in part because they were so good but also in part because no one else wrested playing time from the two. Schutt looked like he might do so in fall camp but was banged up early and never quite got there, while Munger and Hill received only spot duty. Adding in Hale, who started nine games in 2013, means there are plenty of candidates to step up to fill the admittedly large shoes of Bennett. As far as end goes, the Buckeyes got steady play out of Miller and Frazier a year ago and have to feel there’s some young talent that can step in there with some more experience, which starts building now.
Player On The Spot
Hale. This really could be any of the tackles, but we’ll go with the one with the most experience in Hale. A vocal leader at the end of last season when he couldn’t suit up, Hale can fill Bennett’s shoes in that regard, but he’ll have to keep improving to get to the level Bennett was at near the end of 2014, especially after a year off. Having seniors, especially leaders, finish strong is something Urban Meyer believes in much like predecessor Jim Tressel, and this is a chance for a big finish for both Hale and Schutt.
Spring Is A Success If…
The Buckeyes leave feeling good about the tackle spot and add a pass-rushing threat opposite Bosa. That’s asking a lot, and the first part is the most critical as Bennett’s excellent play helped anchor the defense up the middle a year ago. Larry Johnson said in Dallas that he likes the way his young tackles are progressing, but now they must do it on the field. Meanwhile, neither Miller nor Frazier was a terror on opposing quarterbacks a season ago, but adding someone who can get home opposite Bosa would really push the defense to another level. Hubbard has earned a lot of praise and has bulked up, while both Holmes and Lewis have the type of games that would suggest they can become good pass-rushing ends.
Spring Is A Failure If…
More attrition hits. This is a position that has struggled over the past few years at building depth, and the staff has had to attack the spot in recruiting each of the past two cycles to keep adding both numbers and talent. Now is the time for the Buckeyes to keep building the rotation to the point Johnson feels confident in at least eight players, and to return the spot to where it was a few years ago when the Buckeyes felt they had as much talent as anyone in the nation.