With junior defensive end Lawrence Wilson lost for the season to a torn ACL in his left knee, the Buckeyes now are tasked with replacing a player who was averaging around 40 plays per game as the most prolific lineman on the roster.
First into the void might be a player who burst onto the radar as a true freshman: junior Robert Rose, who has seen time at both the end and tackle positions during his career at OSU. Behind him are a number of players all figuring to see their roles increase.
Just how it will all play out remains to be seen.
"Someone's going to have to step in, whether it's Rob Rose taking 20 of those (snaps) and so-and-so taking 10 and so forth," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "We certainly hope Rob takes a step forward, along with some others."
After appearing on the scene as a true freshman and recording 3½ sacks in limited action, Rose started four games as a sophomore but saw his production numbers dip as he battled injuries to both his shoulders that required two offseason surgeries.
The process that has led to getting back on the field has been a prolonged one for Rose, according to safeties coach Paul Haynes, the lone defensive coach made available to media this week.
"I think he's getting more confidence after the shoulder surgeries," Haynes said. "It just goes back to reps and reps, and the more reps he gets the more comfortable he's going to get. There's the rehab part of it and then there's the middle part of it of getting back on the field and actually going through it and it going through your mind that, ‘OK, these things are OK.' "
This season, Rose has made seven tackles – one for loss – in six games. He has also broken up a pass.
Senior defensive tackle Nader Abdallah said Rose has been working as the starter at one defensive end spot this week, while sophomore Cameron Heyward has played at the other. Heyward also has experience playing both at end and tackle this season and has 11 tackles including a sack.
Behind Rose and Heyward, a number of guys could see action including true freshmen Nathan Williams and Keith Wells. Williams has seen action in four games and has three tackles, while Wells saw action against Troy and has not yet recorded a statistic.
"We've got guys working out and pretty much spots are open," Abdallah said. "Whoever has the best week of practice will play. That's where our mindset is."
Also factoring heavily into the equation is sophomore Thaddeus Gibson. A converted linebacker, Gibson has seen more action as the season has gone on and has three starts under his belt.
Gibson is also tied for the team lead with five tackles for loss and three sacks, but his role has primarily been to play in obvious passing situations.
As one of those "others" Tressel referred to, senior end Curtis Terry said he is preparing for a bigger role in the team's defense. He has six tackles including two for loss this season.
"Hopefully I'll be able to help the defense," he said. "We're all going to have to put in a little extra to get things done. We all have to be prepared and learn multiple positions."
The fact that there is no clear-cut replacement is a statement about both Wilson's role and the lack of stability that has permeated the team's defensive line this season. With coaches and players alike stressing that the team views any of a number of players as potential starters, Wilson has been a stabilizing force in the trenches.
"It's tough because Lawrence is such a big part of this defense with what he can do rushing the passer, what he can do dropping back into coverage," senior linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "Lawrence is such an athlete that it hurts to lose a player like that."
With the rotation that is likely to ensue, Terry pointed out that who replaces Wilson on the first play might not have the biggest impact on the line.
"Right now it's a competition," he said. "Whatever the case may be and whoever ends up starting, I'm pretty sure that we'll have a rotation. It's not who starts, it's who finishes. We're going to rotate and the best player is going to play."