Denlinger had been there before – twice. Injuries cost the 6-2, 292-pound defensive lineman playing time as a sophomore and junior. Finally healthy again, Denlinger was a solid contributor for the Buckeyes off the bench before Larimore's injury and has started the last two games in place of the injured defensive tackle.
"It's huge for me with it being my senior year," Denlinger said of his health. "I feel bad that Dexter got hurt, but that presented an opportunity for me. Dexter's coming along great, and he'll be back playing great football for us here real soon. But it's been a lot of fun staying healthy for my senior season, just being able to be a part of this team for my last go-around."
Denlinger's collegiate career has unfortunately been one filled with season-hindering injuries. He played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2006 and saw significant action when All-American Quinn Pitcock and fellow defensive line standout David Patterson both went down with injuries. The following season the Troy, Ohio, product made 13 tackles – including three for a loss. However, he only started the first five games before a knee injury kept him out for three games and handicapped him for the rest of the season.
The 2008 season was another one that held a lot of promise for Denlinger as the season began. He started the first two games of the season before he was hobbled by an ankle injury suffered in the third game of the season against Ohio University. The setback limited his playing time and put him behind Cameron Heyward and Nader Abdallah on the depth chart. Denlinger finished the season with seven tackles with 0.5 for a loss in 12 games.
Denlinger admitted some frustration in dealing with his injury issues.
"Anytime you get hurt I think you get a little frustrated, and that definitely happened to me," he said. "I had high expectations for myself and I know the coaches did as well. Anytime that happens and you're not out on the field with the teammates you're definitely down a little bit, but you can't let that effect you.
"You've got to keep getting better, keep getting healthy and help the team in any way you can."
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel did find another way for Denlinger to help the team during spring practice. Tressel had Denlinger work with both the defensive line as well as the tight ends because Denlinger wears No. 92 – a tackle-eligible number. Denlinger said his role with the offense has been limited because of his increased role on defense, but he's more than willing to do what the coaches ask of him.
"I haven't really seen much time at it lately, but I know if they'll need me they'll throw me right back in there," Denlinger said.
His unique position also gives him a different view on the recent struggles by the Ohio State offense. Denlinger said execution – or a lack of it – is what ails the Buckeyes.
"It's just a little execution," Denligner said. "If we start executing and do the little things right we'll be a great team and great things will happen from here." Denlinger's willingness to do whatever is best for the team and do what it takes to better himself has not been lost on his teammates.
"Everything he does he does with a great attitude," senior linebacker Austin Spitler said. "In the summertime he's always working his butt off, always one of the guys you see in there all the time. … When he was injured, he never got down on himself. He's done well with everything he's been given."
Denlinger is making the most of his final season as a Buckeye. He already has a career-high 4.0 tackles for a loss and 2.0 sacks to go with nine tackles. He also showed why the coaching staff thought he might make a good tight end when he intercepted a Ben Chappell pass at Indiana, a big moment that occurred just plays after Larimore went down with his injury.
Now he wants to finish his collegiate career with a flourish, individually and with the rest of his teammates. He was one of several Ohio State seniors who spoke of their desire to lead the team past last week's upset loss at Purdue.
"The last couple games of the season; that's what you're remembered for," Denlinger said. "You're remembered for how you finish, not how you start."