Nine Units Strong: Defensive Line

Ohio State returns just one defensive lineman from last year who will start game one, but there's no lack of talent at a position the Buckeyes have recruited strong the past few seasons.

OUTLOOK

If you're Larry Johnson and look around your position room, you've got to feel pretty good.

Just two starters return, but one of them is a unanimous All-American and the other a five-star prospect in his recruiting days. One of the new starters was also a five-star prospect coming out of high school, while the man stepping in for the All-American, who is suspended for the first game? Also a five-star.

Then there are a ton of other four-star players in the room, each of whom are just waiting for their turn to shine. In all, there's 16 scholarship players in Johnson's room, a mix of leadership (Adolphus Washington and Joel Hale), production (Joey Bosa), young depth (Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, Michael Hill, Donovan Munger) and even younger depth (five freshmen including early enrollee Jashon Cornell).

So it's a good time for Johnson, even if his best player won't see the field in game one because of suspension. Those good vibes are helped by the fact Johnson's players understand that not much changes with Bosa unable to take the field vs. Virginia Tech.

“I don’t think so, not at all," Washington said. "Because our defense is made for anybody to play. We would love to have Joey, but we can’t have him for the first game, so we can’t change up our whole defense because of one person. Whoever that guy is, he is going to be capable of going in and not having any fall off.”

That guy appears to be Sam Hubbard, head coach Urban Meyer said Saturday, who has gone from a five-star safety to a tight end to a player expected to start the first game. He'll be a new starter along with the guy on the other side, Lewis, as well as tackle Tommy Schutt, a senior who has been named one of the most improved players on the team in the eyes of the head man.

That's a pretty good group ready for game one, and Johnson likes the mental mind-set of his group heading to Blacksburg.

"It’s not about Joey," he said. "It’s about them and our unit and getting better. I think they understand and embrace that process. Their growth is really tremendous.”

Not all is perfect. Meyer said he still wants to see more depth along the interior line, where Hill and Hale have been banged up, and some players on the unit are more potential than production to this point. But with a line that essentially goes four deep right now, the Buckeyes seem likely to find enough guys to play so that Johnson can use the rotation he desires.

DEPTH CHART

Defensive End

Awaiting Image
Joey Bosa
6'6" / 275 / Jr.
  • DE
  • 97

Notes

A unanimous All-American a season ago when he finished just shy of the Buckeye record with 13.5 sacks, Bosa enters this season as the odds-on favorite to be a top-10 draft pick as well as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He'll be suspended for the first game vs. Virginia Tech but should return and start immediately given his unique combination of strength and motor.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Sam Hubbard
6'5" / 265 / RFr.
  • DE
  • 6

Notes

Urban Meyer said after camp that Hubbard was the favorite to start the opener in Joey Bosa's stead vs. Virginia Tech. A consummate football player, Hubbard has switched spots a few times but now seems to have found his home at defensive end, where his athleticism and size figure to make him useful against both the run and the pass. He's also a hard worker who has been one of OSU's most praised players since he arrived as a five-star in the class of 2014.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Jalyn Holmes
6'5" / 265 / So.
  • DE
  • 10

Notes

Holmes was a four-star prospect when he got to Ohio State and immediately earned playing time as a freshman last year. A pass-rushing specialist, he needs to keep getting better against the run, but Holmes battled Sam Hubbard for Joey Bosa's spot in the opener and should see plenty of playing time no matter how that battle breaks down.

Player Profile

Defensive End

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Tyquan Lewis
6'4" / 260 / RSo.
  • DE
  • 59

Notes

After a year serving as a reserve, the four-star prospect from North Carolina will enter the starting lineup. He had tackles in limited duty but three of them were tackles for loss, so he shows an ability to get in the backfield, and Lewis is yet another Buckeye with an impressive combination of size and explosiveness on the defensive line.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Darius Slade
6'4" / 255 / RFr.
  • DE
  • 42

Notes

A late pickup for the Buckeyes in the class of 2014, Slade could provide depth after taking a redshirt season. He was on the travel roster early in the year until injury ended his 2014, but Slade has quickness and an ability to get to the QB.

Player Profile

Nose Guard

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Tommy Schutt
6'3" / 290 / Sr.
  • DT
  • 90

Notes

When the Buckeyes got a pledge from the five-star prospect in Urban Meyer's first recruiting class, they likely expected more than 17 tackles in three seasons. Yet that's what Schutt, who has battled seemingly continuous foot and ankle injuries, sits after his first trio of campaigns. He is atop the depth chart right now, though, and has been named one of the most improved players of camp by Urban Meyer, and he could be set up for a big senior season.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Joel Hale
6'4" / 295 / RSr.
  • DT
  • 51

Notes

Hale could have left the team after last season but came back for one more year with his brothers, and he'll spend it on the defensive line after last year he moved to offense. A starter for most of 2013 for the Buckeyes, Hale is a team leader and a tough nut who will be a part of the DT rotation as soon as he gets healthy from calf issues that have handicapped him during camp.

Player Profile

3-Technique Tackle

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Adolphus Washington
6'4" / 290 / Sr.
  • DT
  • 92

Notes

Washington will be the only returning starter on the line when the Buckeyes begin the season vs. Virginia Tech, and he comes back after 48 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks last year. It was a breakout year but even more could be in the cards for the athletic tackle, who now takes over Michael Bennett's 3-technique spot that allows for more plays to be made along the line.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Donovan Munger
6'4" / 300 / RSo.
  • DT
  • 52

Notes

Munger seems to be the kind of guy who could be an unheralded contributor this year, just as he was a season ago when he played in 10 games and had five tackles as a redshirt freshman. He seems destined to be in the two-deep this year and has impressed when given the chance. Consistency could be the key to more playing time.

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ALSO IN THE MIX

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Dre'Mont Jones
6'3" / 280 / Fr.
  • DE
  • 86

Notes

Jones suffered a torn ACL during basketball season last year and wasn't able to practice at the start of camp. It was thought the Scout 300 lineman could see time early, but the injury and its recovery will seemingly likely doom him to a redshirt given how far behind he now is when he reaches full health.

Player Profile

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Tracy Sprinkle
6'3" / 290 / RSo.
  • DT
  • 93

Notes

Sprinkle might be most known for an off-the-field incident in the summer of 2014 but the northern Ohioan has stuck around and is now someone who can chip in as part of the defensive tackle rotation. He won't start but could provide depth after getting his feet wet in spot duty a season ago.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Dylan Thompson
6'5" / 275 / RFr.
  • DE
  • 94

Notes

Thompson continues to rehab from a knee injury that cost him his freshman season of 2014 and so any predictions about his future must keep that in mind, but if he reaches health could be someone to watch going forward given his size and ability to get to the quarterback.

Player Profile

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Joshua Alabi
6'5" / 295 / Fr.
  • DT
  • 58

Notes

An incoming three-star defensive tackle prospect, Alabi is one of three Detroit Cass Tech products on the team. He's expected to take a redshirt as teammates said he was going through the usual freshman transition period early on, but he has the body to be a factor when his time comes.

Player Profile

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DaVon Hamilton
6'4" / 300 / Fr.
  • DT
  • 53

Notes

Hamilton hails from just outside of Columbus and picked the Buckeyes late in the recruiting cycle after an excellent senior season at Pickerington Central. He seems likely to redshirt but impressed when he arrived at camp with a body that looked ready to go.

Player Profile

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Michael Hill
6'3" / 295 / RSo.
  • DT
  • 77

Notes

Described as an SEC-style defensive lineman by Urban Meyer when he picked Ohio State in the class of 2013, Hill got off to a strong start but seems to have been sideswiped by injuries of late. He could be at the top of the charts when it comes to pure ability among the defensive tackles, and his growth could be a key thing to watch this year for an OSU team that needs more depth in the interior of the defensive line.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Robert Landers
6'1" / 290 / Fr.
  • DT
  • 57

Notes

"BB" was one of the first Buckeye freshmen to get his black stripe removed this year, and he will be a fun player to watch for Buckeye fans. Upgraded to a four-star prospect by Scout.com after his senior season at Huber Heights Wayne, Landers understands leverage and just gets the job done in the middle of the line.

Player Profile

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Jashon Cornell
6'3" / 265 / Fr.
  • DE
  • 9

Notes

Cornell enrolled early and was a Scout 300 prospect, which at most places would put him in line for early playing time. But Ohio State isn't most places, and the logjam along the line seems to indicate he'll see spot reps at best. But Cornell is a good combination of size and athleticism along the line and has a bright future at OSU.

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