Duane Long's Spring Wrap-up - Defense

Duane Long of Ohio's Future Stars has sent us his thoughts on this year's OSU football team after spring practice. Today brings a look at the defense.

The defensive line is the strength of the team. Think about the display that they put on in the spring game, then think about adding two other key players into the mix come fall when Darrion Scott and Simon Fraser (players who will see extensive action) return from injuries. This is one of the best defensive lines in the country and one could offer an argument for being the best defensive line in the country.

Nobody is going to put a better DE on the field than Will Smith. He is a dominating player and a complete player. He plays the run as well as the pass. Tim Anderson and Kenny Peterson had great springs. Last year, Peterson had his best moments at DT and now is there permanently. Fraser had a great spring underway too until the knee injury. The injury was not as bad as first thought as he should be full go come fall camp. Ohio State is going to be able to rotate fresh players into the game at every position along the DL without a drop-off in talent. The impact that will have cannot be underestimated.

Also, Mike Kudla and Quinn Pitcock are players who could have an immediate impact. I suspect Kudla will be the first on the field. As an edge-rusher, he will be a headache for any offense. The worry was that he would not be big enough, at least early on, to play the run effectively. As of last week, Mike was up to 250 with a 510 bench press and is clearing a 60" barrier. That is an entirely different level of explosion. A couple of other names to add in here are Marcus Green and former scholarship player Fred Sturrup. Both are in much better shape that when we saw them last. I wondered why Green was left at DT after I saw his weight, but it looks like he is getting it under control and was impressive in the spring game and had a nice spring in general. He can play. Fred Sturrup is the big story. He really came on this spring and is a perfect fit for this defense. He is a big-framed athletic player who can run. Stirrup has gotten himself into academic difficulty but showed a lot of grit and determination by staying in school and paying his own way by getting a job. His weight is down and he always had a great DL frame. He can play anywhere along the defensive line.

I really like the starting unit at LB. The defense faltered last year, and it can be directly traced to the severe ankle injury of Matt Wilhelm, who was on his way to an early entry to the NFL season before the injury. He will be an All-American candidate. Robert Reynolds would have been a starter at any other school in the Big 10 last year. He had a good spring. Cie Grant didn't miss a beat moving back to LB after his stint at corner last year. Last year will only make him a better player. He will be a real asset on the field defending against the pass. The Buckeyes will be able to leave him on the field every down. Reynolds was always a good pass defender.

I am more convinced than ever that several of the vaunted freshmen LBs will play next fall. I thought one would play and maybe two. I think we see at least two with Marco Cooper suspended for the season, and more than likely, he will not be a Buckeye ever again. He was the only other LB on the team who was pushing for playing time. He had a nice spring and was one of the more impressive players in the spring game. Like with the defensive line, it would be a huge asset to have a 2-deep at LB with no drop-off in talent. That will take the freshmen stepping in and playing.  

Dustin Fox is a stopgap measure at corner in my opinion. He showed that in the spring game. I think his time at corner is going to make him a better safety in coach Dantonio's scheme, which asks both safeties to be able to cover. I see real talent in Richard McNutt but it is obvious that his ankle injury is still not right. His instincts put him in the right place, but he doesn't make plays on the ball. He can't push off that leg. As spring comes to an end, there is a walk-on in the 2-deep at corner.

Until Underwood and Salley arrive this summer, I see corner as the biggest concern on the team. It was hoped that Michael Roberts, the highly touted incoming freshman who arrived early, could step in and help right away. He did not have a good spring, and the transition from Canadian high school ball to big time college football is going to take longer than hoped. LeAndre Boone looks like a player, but I think it will be as a safety.

Speaking of safeties, redshirt sophmore Thomas Matthews had a fine spring, and Will Allen would be a star anywhere else. He looks to be the nickel back again this year and that speaks volumes about the corner situation. Nobody wants to look to a safety to fill the nickel spot. How quickly Underwood and Salley pick it up is going to be key to the defense. It will be a nasty defense anyway. How nasty will depend on the freshmen corners being able to deal with the transition.  

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