LOOKING BACK: Last season the defensive line was good for Ohio State, but they were not dominant. While they were certainly one of the best groups in America, they weren't The Best in the country. These guys did everything well, but sacking the quarterback was not a strength of this group. As a team, Ohio State had 28 sacks. By contrast, Alabama had 54. Clemson had 49. But these guys were far better stopping the run than people thought they would be before the season began. While the strength of the defense was in the secondary, the defensive linemen all did their parts in making this a highly ranked unit.
THE RETURNING STARTERS: Everyone returns. This is as deep a unit as there is in America, and the second teamers get lots of reps. It's hard to set a depth chart, because they substitute liberally, and use down and distance situations to get the right personnel on the field. Can they take that next step of totally dominating opposing offensive lines trying to pass block them? To be Alabama or Clemson, they need to put the quarterback on his back more often. Far more often.
THE INCOMING FRESHMEN: The beat rolls on with both the defensive ends, where they added more five-star talent, and at defensive tackle, where they added more solid four-star talent. There's no need in talking about guys like Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Jay Tufele or Marvin Wilson, because they aren't on the roster. Chase Young is a stud, but can he get playing time with all those DE's back? Even Jonathon Cooper could not get on the field last year as a true freshman. At tackle, the depth chart is crowded for both newcomers, Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage, and I expect both to redshirt.
THE DEFENSIVE END POSITION: The potential is there to be a dominant group, and you have to think another year of maturity takes all these guys to a higher level. The starters are Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis, but are they all that much better than Jalin Holmes and Nick Bosa? These four are all so close in ability, and I don't think Cooper is that far behind these guys. And of course you now throw Young into the mix. Not sure where Darius Slade fits into the mix with his injury problems. This is a championship group.
THE DEFENSIVE TACKLE POSITION: While there is no individual All-American in this group, there is quality and quantity in the room. Who are the starters? I guess Michael Hill and Dre'Mont Jones, but would anyone be surprised to see Da'Von Hamilton or Robert Landers out there? Don't forget Tracy Sprinkle was a starter last year before being hurt, and he's back. And Malik Barrow is highly thought of, and he's also coming off an injury. Thrown in the young pups of Cage and Garrett, and this unit is as deep as anyone has in America. Have to think Josh Alabi is buried in this room. Again, this is a championship group.
THE OUTLOOK: Sack the quarterback. Sack the quarterback. Sack the quarterback. That should be the goal this season, and there's too much talent on the line to be average in this area. Set a goal of 50 sacks, and get t-shirts printed with the 5 and the 0 inside a bulls-eye on the shirt. They should be better run stoppers this season, and they were very good last year. But make getting to the quarterback the number-one priority and coach that position up to make it happen. That one point of emphasis takes this group from very good to Alabama-like dominance.