That situation is playing out at numerous spots on the Ohio State football team during 2007 fall camp, but no spot was ravaged more by graduation than the defensive tackle spot. The quarterback spot lost a Heisman Trophy winner and a solid senior backup, but no other spot on the field lost its top three players on the depth chart.
So while a year ago at this time, defensive line coach (and OSU defensive coordinator) Jim Heacock was excited about his unit's experience, this time around he must instead take positive vibes from the youth and potential of a group trying to replace first-team All-Big Ten member Quinn Pitcock, coaches' second-teamer David Patterson and Joel Penton.
"You can't minimize the loss of those three guys," Heacock said. "They played a lot of reps, and it's awfully easy to say we've got good guys stepping in, but those guys don't have the reps that they had and the experience that they had. Those guys were good. They did a good job for us down inside for the last couple years. They helped us win a lot of games. It is a loss."
How much of a loss? The three combined for 106 total tackles in 2006. Of those stops, 26.5 went for loss and 14 were sacks. Pitcock was chosen in the third round of the NFL Draft by Indianapolis while Patterson signed a free-agent deal with Atlanta in the offseason.
At the same time, their true effect cannot be measured by simple statistics. They were often faced with multiple players on each play trying to keep them from breaking into the backfield to wreak havoc, freeing up the defensive ends and linebackers to make plays when necessary.
"Those guys, they took on so many double teams and triple teams and they never complained about it," end Lawrence Wilson said. "They just wanted to help our defense be the best in the country. You really need guys like that on your D-line to set that foundation."
The next obvious question: Will Ohio State have any players like that this upcoming year?
"I definitely think we have guys that can fill those roles immediately," Wilson said.
Denlinger, a sophomore, was able to get his feet wet a year ago as OSU's fourth defensive lineman. The 6-3, 280-pounder played in 11 games and made four tackles, two for loss. Next to him, Worthington has the physical tools at 6-7, 274 pounds and a 4.75 40-yard dash to be an interesting presence in the middle of the line after making three tackles in '06.
"We think Doug has the chance to become a very good player for us," Heacock said. "It's not every day that you get someone who is 6-7 and has the kind of overall speed and quickness that he has. As a defensive coach, it allows you to try some things that you wouldn't necessarily try."
Backing up the pair on the first depth chart are redshirt freshman Dexter Larimore and junior Nader Abdallah. Larimore has been lauded throughout the spring and now camp because of his ability to make plays, an ability surely helped by his wrestling days in which he was nationally ranked at Merrillville (Ind.) High School. Abdallah has hit the weight room hard in an effort to lose the extra weight that has plagued him and kept him to eight games over the last two years.
"There are four or five guys in there that are really getting after it and are excited about getting an opportunity to play now," Heacock said. "Their attitude is great. They're great personalities and fun to work with. They had great offseasons. I think we'll have at least four in there that we can roll through early in the season and see how they do."
The Buckeyes might go a little further than four deep. A couple of players who can also play some defensive end might get a chance to moonlight inside. Included in that group are sophomore Robert Rose and true freshman Cameron Heyward. The latter was thought to be a tackle prospect by many recruiting services, while Rose made 3.5 sacks in limited time a year ago outside and Heacock would like to see the athletic 295-pounder get some time rushing the passer from the inside.
All in all, it's a group long on talent and enthusiasm but short on experience. It's the eternal struggle of the college coach, but Heacock seems to have proper perspective.
"Quinn was young once too," Heacock said. "When he got his chance, he went out and played hard. I think this group will do the same thing. I really like this group. They play hard, they practice hard – they're the next era and I think they feel good about getting their shot."