Defensive Line Most Stable Unit For Ohio State
By Matt Natali
COLUMBUS, Ohio — This spring Ohio State welcomes Larry Johnson, a familiar face to a new place.
For 18 years, Johnson coached the Penn State defensive line across the field from the Ohio State sideline. During his time at Penn State, he coached seven All-Americans and saw the NFL draft six of his players in the first round. Johnson officially was named the Buckeyes assistant head coach and defensive line coach in January.
From 2011-13, former Buckeye and All-Pro Mike Vrabel coached the Ohio State defensive line. He departed for the Houston Texans in January behind former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, now head coach of the Texans. Then James Franklin was hired away from Vanderbilt to take over Penn State. When the coaching carousel came to a stop, Johnson landed in Columbus.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was pleased with the hire, citing personal respect for Johnson's relational approach to coaching, recruiting and mentoring.
Johnson similarly was thrilled by Ohio State's attitude and leadership.
"In just a few hours I can tell that Ohio State cares about football," Johnson said during a press release. "There is a winning tradition that is important here. They care about academics and they care about players, and I like the way Coach Urban Meyer approaches things. He's a great teacher. He is very organized and this is what I was looking for.
"And I am really impressed with the Ohio State players. I just met a group of players, walked out of the room and thought, 'wow,' these are the kind of players I want to coach. They were really impressive."
In the third installment of a six-part series, we'll take a look at the defensive line for Ohio State during spring practice. We'll examine the key losses, top returning players, key newcomers and all the pertinent information surrounding the position during preparation for the 2014 season.
With the exception of defensive tackle Joel Hale moving over to the offensive line, Ohio State does not lose any starters or players in the three-deep roster from last season’s team, meaning…
Top Returning Players
The Buckeyes biggest strength on defense will be in the trenches. The defensive line returns all four starters and tallied 53 combined tackles for loss last season, including 31 sacks.
The main cog defensive line is lone senior Michael Bennett, who had 11.5 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks last year.
Junior defensive end Noah Spence started 12 games last season and registered 14.5 tackles-for-loss and eight sacks, earning first-team all-Big Ten honors. Spence, however, will miss the first two games of the 2014 campaign after failing a drug test. He also was forced to sit out of the Orange Bowl in January.
Junior Jamal Marcus started in Spence’s place for the bowl game and made six tackles.
Fellow junior Adolphus Washington, who was a U.S. Army All-American in high school, had four tackles-for-loss and two sacks in 2013.
The surprise of the defensive line last season was true freshman Joey Bosa on the end. Bosa, who was an Under Armour All-American in the 2013 recruiting class, saw action in 12 games last season and had 13.5 tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks. He was an all-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection and named to the freshman All-American team.
Rounding out the defensive line unit for Ohio State is senior Steve Miller, juniors Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter, and sophomore Michael Hill. Schutt and Marcus have started games in their careers, and all previously mentioned have seen the field for the Buckeyes.
While at Penn State, Johnson recruited Spence and Schutt so that the new defensive line coach would be familiar with his players and vice versa.
"I'm a relationship guy," said Johnson at the release. "And I think in order to get the best out of your players you have to develop relationships."
Redshirt freshmen Michael Hill, Donovan Munger, Tracy Sprinkle and Tyquan Lewis will add depth to the defensive line.
New Faces In New Places
Ohio State inked only three defensive linemen — all defensive ends — in 2013, but the Buckeyes had greater needs in other areas.
Jaylyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor) is a four-star prospect according to several outlets and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January. Lake Taylor won a Virginia state championship, and as a junior, Holmes had 79 tackles (40 for a loss) and 11 sacks. In his final two seasons of high school, Holmes had 59 tackles for loss and 21 sacks.
Darius Slade (Montclair, N.J./Montclair) was a signing day surprise, flipping his verbal commitment from Michigan State to Ohio State. Slade is a three-star prospect with 67 tackles, including 23 sacks, as a senior. Montclair won back-to-back state titles with Slade on defense as a junior and senior. He tallied 37 total sacks in those two seasons.
Dylan Thompson (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic) recorded 60 total tackles as a senior (35 for loss) and had 17 sacks. He won three state titles in his high school career, and Montini Catholic was state runner-up in 2013. He was selected by the U.S. Under-19 national team and played in the International Bowl against Canada in Texas.
Next week we'll take a look at the Ohio State offensive line.