DE Bosa's breakout sets table for 2014

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
1:00
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As the self evaluation is delivered in hindsight, Joey Bosa almost makes it seem like a miracle he was even able to get on the field.

The freshman defensive lineman didn’t set any expectations for himself, because he had no idea what life was going to be like in college.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJoey Bosa had a stellar freshman season with 6.5 sack and six QB hurries.
Brutally honest and quick to the point, his assessment of the guy who showed up on campus over the summer was he “wasn’t really a good player.”

Physically gifted for his young age and certainly somebody Ohio State was excited about down the road, all of the preseason attention was on a pair of pass-rushing talents in the class above him, which again helped keep the pressure down and the goals seemingly nonexistent.

But if his rapid development into one of the best young linemen in the Big Ten has taken him by surprise or maybe come a little easier than he thought it would, Bosa does bristle at the suggestion. It hasn’t been the product of a miracle, and it has not happened by accident.

“Definitely wouldn’t say it came easy,” Bosa said. “In the beginning, I wasn’t really a good player and it took a lot of hard work and pushing through a lot of stuff to get where I am.

“It’s good to see that all my hard work is being rewarded with something.”

The honors are piling up now as Freshman All-American awards flood in from across the country after his breakout campaign, tributes which might have exceeded expectations even if Bosa had decided to set any before his first season with the program.

He wasn’t expected to be a starter on the completely rebuilt defensive line, with Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington tabbed as the next great stars up front heading into their sophomore seasons. Among the heralded 2013 recruiting class, much of the focus centered on the game-breaking talent of hybrid weapon Dontre Wilson, the bright future for safety Vonn Bell or the possibility of a pair of touted linebackers cracking the lineup at a thin position on defense.

Instead, Bosa wound up making the biggest impact of them all, ultimately supplanting Washington in the starting lineup, forming a terrifying tandem with Spence on the way to 12.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks -- and by the middle of the season, providing him and the coaching staff with a chance to upgrade their evaluations.

“I think you get opportunities,” defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said in October in the middle of Bosa’s rise. “You start out with five opportunities, ten opportunities, 15, whatever those opportunities are. He was a player that took advantage of those opportunities and went from 20 or 25 snaps to 50, 55, 60.

“Now he's a starter for us. We've got to have him in there, he's a difference maker.”

He’s also just getting started for the Buckeyes, and they’ve got plenty of time to get even more out of Bosa now that he’ll actually have some expectations moving forward.

Ohio State could have its entire front seven back next fall if linebacker Ryan Shazier decides to hold off on the NFL for another season, but either way it will be building around a defensive line that appeared to speed through the learning curve this fall. While that was a collective effort by the Buckeyes, it’s not a stretch to tie Bosa’s smooth individual transition to the overall improvement, and it’s not all that difficult to pinpoint when things changed for him.

“Probably the Northwestern game [was the turning point],” Bosa said. “It was my first time really making some plays, scored a touchdown, was player of the game.

“But I’m not really focused on individual accomplishments, so I just hope to finish this season strong.”

Whether or not Bosa can accomplish that goal in the Discover Orange Bowl, there will certainly be no hiding from the expectations ahead of his sophomore season now.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter

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