Experienced At The Ends

They will be the two bookends of Ohio State's defensive line this season. One is coming off a second-team All-Big Ten season, while the other will be thrust into a starting role for the first time in his OSU career. Take a look at how Vernon Gholston and Lawrence Wilson figure to make an impact this season.

At first glance, they have an awful lot in common.

One stands 6-4, 260 pounds and is entering his junior season as a Buckeye. The other stands 6-6, 270 and is also entering his junior year – but has not had the luxury of a redshirt season.

Meet Vernon Gholston and Lawrence Wilson, the bookends of this season's Ohio State defensive line.

"We can be real good," Wilson said of the defense. "We can be special. The defense is special now, it's just a different defense. I wouldn't say better, it's just different. We can be really special."

Both Gholston and Wilson are being counted on to be major impact players this season for the Buckeyes, but for two different reasons. Gholston finished last season as the Buckeyes' sack leader (8.5), starting all 13 games and earning second-team All-Big Ten honors.

He is the one returning starter on the defensive line. Gone are tackles Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson along with end Jay Richardson – all graduating seniors. After an impressive offseason, Wilson entered the fall as the odds-on favorite to succeed Richardson and has done nothing to disappoint.

But when the 2006 season began, Wilson was listed ahead of Gholston as the starter opposite of Richardson. When the season ended, the decision to go with Gholston had paid off, but OSU head coach Jim Tressel said even he was surprised by the year Gholston put together.

"Vernon was a guy that we were hoping would emerge last year, and he even exceeded our expectations," Tressel said. "I thought he grew."

Wilson, on the other hand, did not have the breakout season that Gholston did. After seeing action in 11 games as a true freshman, Wilson again saw action in 11 games but was a regular part of OSU's rotation along the defensive line.

Now he finds himself poised for a breakout season – partially due to his talent, and partially as the result of just being the next guy in line to take over the starting spot.

"It's all about filling roles," he said. "I don't think I'm going to have a breakout season, I just want to fill the role of making plays on the d-line, kind of take the load off the other guys, off the DBs, off the linebackers. If I can find my role and make plays for the d-line, everything else will come.

"I'm one-eleventh of the defense as our coaches tell us, so I'm just trying to fill my role and everything else will come."

While that statement is the mantra of the OSU defense, Gholston regularly draws the attention of multiple players on opposing teams. More often than not last season, it seemed he was being double-teamed – or held – by offensive linemen.

"I'm just glad somebody else sees it," he said. "You expect that. The biggest thing about that is using what you know as far as going back and looking at it and finding ways to beat that."

As the Buckeyes replaced nine starters on defense last season, coaches and players alike pointed to the team's experience up front as a big reason the younger units were able to mature rapidly.

Now, with Gholston serving as the returning starter along the line, it will be vital for the line to mature quickly in order to pull its weight on the defense. Wilson said the relationships being built along the line will accomplish a lot toward that goal.

"We're good friends, so you know if you're playing next to a good friend of yours it's a lot easier," he said. "We don't have any selfish guys. It makes us different and it makes us special."

To that end, Gholston said the desire along the defensive line to have a great season and live up to last season's production will help to push them this year.

"We have two guys at defensive end that have been there and played and been in the fire over the past two, three years," he said. "It may not be at tackle, but defensive end-wise we've got experience. The tackles that we have are definitely welcome to the challenge. They're hungry and that desire is going to show on the field."

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