- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.
Who's back: The void in the middle of the defensive line is substantial, but that doesn't mean it's likely to become a black hole for Ohio State as it transitions to life without Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. Losing a talent like Hankins early to the NFL draft was a major blow to the defense even if it was expected, and Goebel's senior season was quietly productive and steady even if it wasn't flashy as the combination of the two big guys plugged gaps and often made rushing up the middle a fruitless proposition for opponents. But there are talented guys in reserve up front, even if there doesn't appear to be all that much depth heading into spring practice. Michael Bennett and his versatile set of skills will be put to use on the interior, and junior Joel Hale and sophomore Tommy Schutt both have the ability to handle the first-team load after filling in off the bench a year ago. Those three guys will be the focal point, charged with picking up where Hankins and Goebel left off.
New face: The Buckeyes have two recent signees already on campus and ready to go to work in the spring, though both are listed as defensive ends and don't appear to have the size needed to battle at the interior spots. But either way, Tracy Sprinkle (6-foot-2, 241 pounds) and Tyquan Lewis (6-foot-3, 223) could potentially allow line coach Mike Vrabel to tinker with his rotation a bit, particularly with somebody like inside-outside guy Adolphus Washington who is capable of playing multiple positions. Natural tackles Michael Hill, Joey Bosa, Billy Price and Donovan Munger will bulk up the group in August.
Projected spring depth chart: After dealing with injuries last fall, Bennett appears poised to get back on track at defensive tackle. Depending on how a potential competition between Hale and Schutt plays out at nose tackle, the second-team guy might wind up as the backup at both positions until the influx of fresh talent arrives for the Buckeyes. Chris Carter remains a physically imposing presence at 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, but he's yet to put that size to good use with Ohio State and will need to stand out in spring to put himself in position to contribute.
Numbers game: The numbers weren't all back to Silver Bullet levels yet, but with Hankins and Goebel effectively shutting down lanes up the middle, the rushing defense ranked among the best in the country during last year's perfect season. Collectively Ohio State held opponents to 3.55 yards per carry and just more than 116 yards per game, putting them at No. 14 in the nation in stopping the run.
One to watch: Schutt didn't have an abundance of chances to show what he could do as a true freshman, though the Buckeyes did think highly enough of him to put him on the field for a start in just his second game with the program. He wound up appearing sparingly in 10 games, though, getting credit for just four tackles and a quarterback hurry as Hankins and Goebel dominated the action. But that early experience should still yield benefits for Schutt as he prepares for his sophomore season and a much larger role now that the veterans have moved on, and Vrabel and the defensive staff will be following him closely to see just how much he's prepared to handle.
He said it: "We're a little bit light on defense, and I think we answered a lot of our concerns once we develop them. ... The defensive line, we've got good guys [in the middle] and defensive ends, too. Hit a couple good, solid ones -- some great players on the defensive line, we're hoping." -- coach Urban Meyer on the additions up front on signing day
9hMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
6dDan Murphy and Brian Bennett