The Big Board, Part 3: D-Line, Linebackers

We are back with the third installment of our five-part series, The Big Board, a position-by-position look at the Ohio State football team. Today, we look at the defensive linemen and linebackers, led by standout A.J. Hawk.

We are back with the third installment of The Big Board, my position-by-position look at the Ohio State football team.

We opened this five-part series Wednesday with a look at the offensive backs and receivers. We continued Thursday with the tight ends and linebackers.

Today, we will get inside the huddle on the defensive line and at linebacker.

Saturday, we will examine the secondary and specialists.

Finally, on Sunday, we will tie all of this data together.

Here is a position-by-position look at OSU's scholarship status and prospects at the defensive line and linebacker positions with returning players listed by seniority. Walk-ons listed if on latest published roster (i.e. if you don't see a particular walk-on, he is not on the most recent roster update).

(All class designations are 2003 eligibility; starters marked with an asterisk.)

Defensive End

* In The Fold (7): Will Smith* (Sr.), Simon Fraser* (Jr.), Mike Kudla (Soph.), Joel Penton (R-Fr.), Jay Richardson (R-Fr.), Marcel Frost (Fr.), Reggie Smith (Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (3): Steve Graef (Sr.), Bryce Culver (Sr.), Derek Coker (R-Fr.).

* Verbals For 2004 (0): None.

* Analysis: Smith, a team captain, is living up to his billing as an All-Big Ten performer with a team-high 3-1/2 sacks and seven tackles-for-loss (second on the team). Fraser has dealt with injuries, but has been solid as well in his first full year as a starter.

Kudla has been the top reserve at end, notching one sack already this year. He figures to be next in line to replace Smith next year.

Penton and Richardson are each getting limited time in their redshirt freshman campaigns. The sky could be the limit for these two guys.

Frost was impressive in preseason camp, but is taking this season as a redshirt year to acclimate himself to the college game.

Smith was just moved to the defensive line, where he excelled at East Cleveland Shaw last year, from linebacker. Smith was listed at 225 pounds, but he is well above that weight and no longer fit as an LB, apparently. He has been saddled by injuries and is also redshirting this year.

* Still Looking: There are never enough play makers at the end position.

OSU could go after two or three end prospects. Cleveland St. Ignatius' Michael Massey (6-5, 235) could be Ohio's best to offer. It's anybody's guess where he'll end up -- he's had brothers play at OSU and Michigan.

Outside Ohio, two names to file away would be Derrick Harvey of Greenbelt, Md., and Vernon Gholston of Detroit. Harvey (6-5, 235) is also looking at Florida, Kansas State, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma and Tennessee. Gholston (6-3, 238) is also looking at Michigan and Michigan State.

OSU would also like Willie Young of Palm Beach, Fla., and Rhyan Anderson of Oak Creek, Wis., but they have to be considered long shots. Young (6-5, 210) is also looking at Florida, Georgia, N.C. State and Oklahoma. Anderson (6-6, 265) is also considering Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Nebraska and USC.

Defensive Tackle

* In The Fold (7): Tim Anderson* (Sr.), Darrion Scott* (Sr.), Marcus Green (Soph.), Quinn Pitcock (R-Fr.), Sian Cotton (Fr.), Brandon Maupin (Fr.), David Patterson (Fr.).

* Verbals For 2004 (0): None.

* Analysis: Scott, when healthy, has continued to impact games following his move from defensive end. He has two sacks and four TFLs in four games so far. Anderson, a captain, is also at the top of his game with two sacks and 4-1/2 TFLs.

Obviously, their departure will leave a gaping hole at season's end. But Green, who has dropped as much as 40 pounds and is playing around 300 pounds this year, is establishing himself nicely. He and Pitcock, another promising youngster, started the Northwestern game with Scott injured and Anderson subbing at end.

Patterson had an early-season sack and fumble recovery, branding him early in his career as a big play guy. He will join Green and Pitcock in solidifying the middle next year.

Maupin and Cotton are redshirting and early returns on them have been favorable.

* Still Looking: They do not have any verbals at this point and this position, while you always go after big guys who can play, is not OSU's highest priority. They reloaded here nicely a year ago and have several young stars-in-waiting.

There are two Florida prospects who could give OSU a strong look. Miami's Antonio Dixon (6-4, 338) camped at OSU, while Ft. Lauderdale's Pat Sims (6-4, 280) comes from the same Dillard High School that sent Chris Gamble and Thomas Matthews to OSU. Dixon is also looking at Florida, Florida State and LSU and is waiting on an offer from nearby Miami (Fla.). Sims also has offers from Auburn (which stole Dillard's Stanley McClover from OSU last year), Florida and LSU.

One long shot might be Dwayne Hendricks (6-4, 246) of Millville, N.J. He already has visits set at Iowa and Michigan and is also looking at Florida, Miami (Fla.), Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Another could be Orlando's Joe Joseph (6-4, 270), who favors Miami (Fla.) over OSU, Florida, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

There is a lack of quality defensive line prospects in Ohio this year. Canton GlenOak's Nick Smith (6-6, 285) camped at OSU and has been to several games, but has not been offered.

However, OSU seems to already be making Troy, Ohio, junior Todd Denlinger (6-3, 265) a key priority for next year.

Outside Linebacker

* In The Fold (6): Robert Reynolds* (Sr.), Jason Bond (Sr.), Thomas Matthews (Jr.), Bobby Carpenter (Soph.), A.J. Hawk* (Soph.), Curt Lukens (Fr.).

* Walk-Ons (3): Joe Bradley (Soph.), Trever Robinson (Fr.), Blake McAllister (Fr.).

* Verbal For 2004 (1): Marcus Freeman.

* Analysis: Reynolds is back for his third year as a starter and is doing a solid job, ranking third on the team in tackles (29) from the strongside spot. He has also taken some action in the middle.

Hawk is enjoying his first year as the starter at the wideside spot and has developed into an unqualified star. He leads OSU with 47 tackles, 17 more than any other Buckeye. He also leads OSU with 7-1/2 sacks and is tied for the lead with two interceptions. Mark him down as a backbone-of-the-defense kind of performer for the next two years.

Carpenter backs up Reynolds and, with 18 tackles, has earned quite a bit of playing time in OSU's constant LB rotation.

Matthews is listed as Hawk's backup. This converted safety impressed onlookers in the spring and during with his rangy play.

Bond has spent much of his time this year as an emergency fullback.

Lukens was recruited as a safety, but was moved to linebacker -- where he starred last year at North Canton Hoover -- during an impressive preseason camp. He is being redshirted this year.

* Still Looking?: The recent verbal by Huber Heights Wayne's Freeman (6-2, 225) was a big coup and largest name of the 12 verbals in this class. He picked OSU over Notre Dame and Michigan. He could play MLB, but most pundits view him as an OLB at the college level.

Two OLBs from out-of-state the Buckeyes would love to have include Orlando's Brandon Siler (6-3, 220) and Miami's Willie Williams (6-2, 225). Siler also likes Florida, Florida State, LSU, Notre Dame and USC. Most think Williams will end up at FSU or Miami, but Florida, Oklahoma and OSU are also involved.

The only other Ohio prospect OSU may consider would be Euclid's Brandon Smith, who attended a recent game.

Middle Linebacker

* In The Fold (2): Fred Pagac Jr. (Sr.), Mike D'Andrea (Soph.).

* Transferring In (2): Anthony Schlegel (will be a junior when he becomes in eligible in 2004), John Kerr (will be a sophomore in 2004; must pay his own way as a transfer from Indiana).

* Verbals For 2004 (0): None.

* Analysis: D'Andrea (11 tackles) and Pagac (9 tackles) are splitting time here. And, the MLB usually comes off the field in nickel situation, further limiting their playing time.

D'Andrea seems to excel in situations where he can just turn it loose and use his athletic ability. Pagac is a plugger who always seems to be in the right place.

It is anyone's guess how the LB rotation will go next year. But it seems likely that Hawk will be the mainstay and the others (primarily Carpenter, D'Andrea, Kerr and Schlegel) will rotate around him.

* Still Looking: With Schlegel and Kerr coming online next year, there is not a tremendous amount of urgency to bring in a true MLB in this class.

It is possible that verbal Chad Hoobler, recruited mostly as a tight end, or potential winter enrollee Cedric Scott will join the fold at LB.

OSU has offers pending to four pretty good ones in Robert Ayers of Bennettsville, S.C.; James Bryant of Reading, Pa.; Javier Estopinan of Miami; and Vernon Smith of Ft. Lauderdale.

Ayers (6-3, 218) is also looking at South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and FSU. Bryant (6-3, 240) also has Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, MSU, Notre Dame and Pitt on his dance card.

Estopinan (6-3, 230) has a visit set to Florida and is also pondering offers from FSU and N.C. State. If Miami offers, that could change things for him.

Smith (6-1, 219), who also plays for Dillard, is also considering Oklahoma, Florida, Kansas State and Miami.

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