The Buckeyes lost two starters along the line from the 2014 national championship team, the only level of the defense to see more than one leave the program, and with the loss of Joey Bosa to suspension for the season opener against Virginia Tech three Ohio State players with limited experience will be starting on the D-line Sept. 7.
The lone experienced starter in the defensive front four against the Hokies will be Adolphus Washington. The senior has started 19 games over the last two seasons and has 9.5 sacks and 18 tackles-for-loss in his Buckeye career.
He will have another senior joining him along the line this season in fellow defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, but the Illinois native has started just two games in his Ohio State career. Joining the seniors with Bosa out for the opener will likely be a pair of sophomores in Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis. Fellow second year player Jayln Holmes and freshman Darius Slade may also work in the mix.
Despite the burden of replacing three of four starters for the season’s first game, Washington said any pressure his unit is feeling falls on him.
“It might be a lot of pressure on guys, but that’s my job and (defensive line coach Larry) Johnson’s job to make those guys feel as comfortable as possible so when they go out there they have nothing to worry about but just play,” Washington said.
The soft-spoken Washington admits that the transition into a leader is still a bit of a work in progress. His inclusion by head coach Urban Meyer on the trip to Big Ten Media days, though, is an indicator that the coach thinks Washington can be a leader for the Buckeyes in 2015, or that Meyer needs him to be.
To be sure, Washington will not be alone as a leader on the D-line as fellow seniors Schutt and Joel Hale will be in the rotation at defensive tackle and upon return from suspension Bosa brings the experience of 25 starts and an All-American pedigree to the line. Still, Washington feels it is important for him to take some ownership of the defensive line and is leaning on the lessons learned from 2014 captain Michael Bennett.
“Just being more vocal,” Washington said of his biggest adjustment. “I was always the guy that wanted to lead by example because I never knew what to say to a guy or to say to the team to motivate them. So I always wanted to lead by example, but I learned from Mike you’ve got to say what you’re feeling, say what’s on your mind and how you feel about certain things.
“I have definitely been doing a better job with that.”
If the Buckeyes are to navigate the perilous path to defending their title they will need that type of leadership from Washington and he knows it.
“It’s kind of impossible (for a team to function) if you don’t have strong leaders in every group,” he said. “The person that is the leader in the unit, they typically rise to the top and become the team leaders, but it definitely starts in the unit room.”
On the defensive line, it starts with Washington.