Tackles' Experience Key To Consistency

One of the places the Ohio State football team hopes to improve from a year ago is at the defensive tackle position. That goal seems to be within reach because the group gained experience after being fairly green last camp. The tackles spoke about how last year's time on the field should help them improve their consistency in 2008.

When Ohio State defensive line coach Jim Heacock looked at his roster of returning defensive tackles last season, he had to have had some sort of worry.

After having lost his top three tackles from the prior season in Quinn Pitcock, David Patterson and Joel Penton, Heacock's most experienced returning tackle was Todd Denlinger, who had made a total four tackles and two stops for loss the year before as a redshirt freshman.

Denlinger was joined as a presumed starter by Doug Worthington, who had made three stops in his career. The top backups were Nader Abdallah, a junior who had seen only sparing action, and redshirt freshman Dexter Larimore.

Each received plenty of playing time and started at least one game in 2007, though none really stood out as a dominating presence while most fought through injuries. The group combined for 72 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss; by comparison, eventual third-round NFL draft choice Pitcock had 39 and 12, respectively, on his own in 2006.

That's not to say there weren't some good days along the way. Three of the TFL, as well as a sack, for the tackles came against Michigan as the Ohio State defense kept the Wolverines to a total of 91 yards of offense. Against Wisconsin, each of the four tackles had one tackle for loss, three of which were sacks.

On the other hand, the Buckeye struggled to get much push against both Illinois and LSU. Those teams averaged 363 yards per game, and the tackles combined for 2.5 tackles for loss and no sacks in those two contests.

In other words, the unit was consistently inconsistent. Becoming consistently good could simply be a function of one thing: experience.

"(The experience) has helped because last year we looked at what mistakes we made and where we can get better, and that's what we're looking at right now," Abdallah said.

So far, Heacock seems pleased with the results. During the spring, Heacock stressed that he needed more production from his inside guys, especially when it came to getting to the quarterback. The four tackles combined for just five sacks, one quarterback hurry and one pass deflection through the 13-game season.

When asked about his tackle group this fall, Heacock had a much sunnier disposition.

"Dexter's had a really good fall," Heacock said. "Todd is consistently good. Nader is better than he was a year ago. He's much better than he was. Doug is really playing well.

"Those four inside guys, every day there's a different starter. I'm just kind of keeping the competition going."

A year ago, that might have been one of the things that helped handicap the Buckeyes at the position. With so many players attempting to assert themselves individually for the first time, it became difficult for everyone to end up on the same page collectively.

"Last year, we were just kind of worried about ourselves, doing what we had to do," Denlinger said. "This year we've kind of changed things up and work as a unit and just try to get better."

The result of last year's youth and inexperience was a revolving door at the position. Worthington started the most games – 12 – and had the best stats, finishing with 24 tackles, a sack, a pass breakup, a quarterback hurry and an interception. Denlinger started the first five games before a knee injury kept him out for three games and left him handicapped the rest of the season. He ended with 13 tackles, three for loss.

Abdallah took over for Denlinger as the starter, starting the final seven games and eight overall. His final stat line included 19 tackles, three for loss. Then there was Larimore, the former wrestler who started just one game but led the unit with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

The added year of maturity has each not worrying about playing time

"It's not who's playing for position – everybody's playing to get everybody better for the team concept," Abdallah said. "There's not too much individuality because team success brings individual success."

The newfound experience does more than provide the players with maturity and a comfort level. Larimore, who is up to 310 pounds, went technical discussing the moves the team now can take advantage of to trouble opposing offensive linemen.

"We can run different kinds of stunts and stuff," he said. "We can get more up and unders for the D-ends, and we can get more twists and stunts and stuff that normally we wouldn't run because we're kind of more concerned about just making sure that we do our job."

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