- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Michael Bennett wasn’t evaluating his own potential as much as simply looking at the scale.
Heading into the offseason the Ohio State junior was weighing about 280 pounds, a size that would potentially allow him to play either inside or outside. But with Adolphus Washington checking in at just more than 300 pounds, it certainly seemed logical that the sophomore could slide to tackle and allow Bennett to return to end.
The No. 4 Buckeyes had other ideas, though, doing just the opposite of what might have been expected on paper. And now a month into the season and coming off one of the finest outings of his career, it’s safe to assume they knew what they were doing when they evaluated more than just Bennett’s frame and plugged him into the middle of a surging defense.
“I talked to [defensive line coach Mike] Vrabel about it,” Bennett said. “I was thinking I was going to play end and [Washington] was going to play tackle. But as soon as he said we’re going to put [Washington] on the outside, I was like, ‘All right, well, guess I’ve got to get good at defensive tackle.’
“I’ve got the technique down a little bit better, so I recognize myself more as a defensive tackle than an end now.”
Bennett might still have some room to grow to look like a prototypical tackle, and he’s quick to point out another offseason to tack on more mass would be a boost. But he’s doing just fine without it for now, thriving in a critical position for a unit that has been completely rebuilt from last season.
Had a groin injury not slowed him down early in his sophomore year, the overhaul might not have required finding new starters at every position since Bennett was drawing high praise from the coaching staff and was a strong candidate to use his pass-rushing skills as a regular in the rotation up front. Instead, Bennett never seemed to get completely healthy, became something of an afterthought and finished the season with just 11 tackles, a sack, forced fumble and a recovery.
Through just four games after sitting out the blowout over Florida A&M with a stinger, Bennett has surpassed those numbers in every category but tackles, making three plays behind the line of scrimmage, chipping in 1.5 sacks and forcing and recovering a pair of fumbles -- all while doing the sometimes thankless work that comes with his new life on the interior without complaint.
“He’s a perfect example of hard work because this time last year, he was nonexistent,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “When he went in, he was a liability.
“Last year he was a no-name guy we were just kind of disappointed in. This year he’s become a very good leader. He’s become a vocal leader, but his leadership all summer and in training camp was by his actions, his work ethic, his 4-to-6 seconds of effort. So, I mean, if he’s succeeded my expectations, then he’s performing like an All-Big Ten player.”
Following his week off to prepare for Wisconsin, Bennett certainly delivered an all-conference type of performance to help shut down one of the most dangerous rushing offenses in the country in a critical win to open Big Ten play.
Bennett took on double teams in the middle to eat up blockers and allow Ohio State’s linebackers to flow to the football in holding the Badgers to just 104 rushing yards. He made 4 tackles himself, and he also showed he hasn’t lost the ability to get after the quarterback with an athletic sack, forcing a fumble in the process.
And in case there was any doubt, another productive outing offered more evidence that Bennett is a perfect fit at tackle -- even if the scale is still on his mind.
“I think I’ve developed that tackle mentality,” Bennett said. “Tough-nosed, understanding you are going to have to take on double teams and beat them and you’re probably not going to be making as many plays as the ends or linebackers.
“I’ve got to get a lot bigger. I’m only about 285 [pounds], so I can put on a lot more muscle and try to change some of the fat to muscle. That’s very important to do in this offseason coming up.”
Until then, his current weight is holding up just fine.
4dDan Murphy and Austin Ward