D-Line Working To Anchor Defense

With lots of new faces across the board, the focus for much of the Ohio State football team was on trying to grow up as quickly as possible this spring. For the defensive line, however, a different approach was needed: one that allowed what figures to be the backbone of the defense to mature at a different rate.

If spring is any indication, Ohio State should have a pretty darn good defensive line this season.

That much was already known when the Buckeyes embarked upon the session of 15 days of drills known as spring practice. With the well-publicized loss of four at least part-time starters in the back seven, the focus this spring has been on how the line will need to make plays in order to keep those younger units further from the line of scrimmage from facing too much pressure too soon.

As a result, the line had a different set of goals entering spring practice as compared to the rest of the defense.

"We worked really hard and that's all the coach wanted out of us," senior defensive tackle Todd Denlinger said following the spring game. "He knew that the potential was there, but it was a matter of translating that potential into production and effort. I know we had a great 15 practices and a lot of guys worked hard."

Between the Gray and Scarlet squads, the defense combined for 14 tackles for loss and 10 sacks – although three of the sacks and seven of the tackles for loss did not come from the defensive line. It was a solid performance, but one that was less dominating than the unofficially recorded 13 sacks recorded one weekend prior during the jersey scrimmage. In addition, the spring game came against a discombobulated offensive line that had members playing out of position.

Senior Doug Worthington said he expected the offensive line to perform better than it had during the jersey scrimmage and credited his fellow defenders for playing hard.

"I wasn't expecting the same thing as the last weekend because I know after hearing it and after going through what they did in that scrimmage that they were going to be ready and be ready to play," he said. "They're very physical and they had a great spring game."

Leading the way was junior defensive end Thaddeus Gibson, who was the lone player to record multiple sacks when he finished with two.

"I look at pass rushing like a strategy, not having a move in mind," Gibson said early in the spring. "With that being said, I'm working on having a repertoire of moves. It's a strategy. One move might work on time, but the next time it might not. You've just got to be able to mix up the moves and not plan out how you want to do it."

The line was not working with its full compliment of players, however, as Lawrence Wilson missed the entire spring while he recovered from his second consecutive season-ending surgery and Rob Rose missed much of the spring with a knee injury.

But as Wilson pointed out, the group of lineman in uniform this year have already been through the battles and know what to expect.

"We know what we have to do," he said. "We know everyone came back from the front line except for Nader (Abdallah), so we know we have to be the leaders of the defense. We've accepted that challenge and we have to do it to the best of our abilities."

That sentiment was echoed by defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Jim Heacock, who admitted to having to change his approach for the spring with such an experienced group under his command.

"I think with this group we want to see a group that dominates," he said. "That's what this group is going to have to do in order for us to be a good defense. I think the front is going to have to be dominant and disruptive. Just take it to the next level and keep working like they're working. They've got to take over a leadership role."

The line figures to look a little different than in years past, however. This spring, OSU rarely featured four linemen with their hands on the ground. Instead, Gibson or another lineman would be standing at one of the end spots while blitzes came from other areas of the defense.

However, Denlinger declined to look at the defensive line as the backbone of this year's defense.

"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a strength, but I think that we could really help out the defense," he said. "We're going to have great linebackers and a great secondary back there. If we just get pressure and stop the run, it will make it that much easier for everyone else back there."

With a strong summer, Denlinger does feel that this defensive line has the potential to be capable of changing games, however.

"It's just a matter of working hard this offseason, doing the right things and getting healthy," he said. "The sky's the limit for the defensive line for us next year."

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