- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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The work for the 2013 season is already underway for Ohio State with the strength program in full swing, but the first moves that started shaping the potential encore effort from a perfect campaign began almost two months ago. BuckeyeNation is counting down the five biggest early developments for the team since last season ended and how they will impact the Buckeyes moving forward.
No. 4: Johnathan Hankins declares for the draft
Development: The Buckeyes certainly weren't blindsided by the decision, but that doesn't mean it still didn't sting when Johnathan Hankins officially announced he was forgoing his senior season and making himself available for the upcoming NFL draft. The stout, skilled defensive tackle had been projected as a first-round pick all season long, and with his stock unlikely to climb much higher even with another productive campaign for Ohio State, the program was always anticipating there would be a hole to fill in the middle of the defensive line.
What it means: If it were simply a matter of just plugging one guy in the rotation up front, the Buckeyes wouldn't have much to worry about. But with the other three starters all exhausting their eligibility, the loss of Hankins effectively tipped the scales. It turned a position group that could conceivably have been young, but still deep, into an inexperienced unit that could deal with some growing pains without that veteran presence around. That's not to suggest the Buckeyes don't have the talent on hand to pick up where the departed players off last season, particularly since Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington all picked up some valuable experience off the bench and have tremendous upside. There's no doubt that trio would have benefited from having Hankins back for another season, but with options such as Michael Bennett or J.T. Moore still around, the Buckeyes still figure to be in good shape.
Numbers game: Replacing four starters is daunting enough on its own, but the bar is set just a little higher considering the contributions up front last year. Combined between John Simon, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel and Hankins, the first-team line chipped in 182 tackles -- 31 of them for a loss -- and 13 sacks. The torch has been passed to the rising sophomores, and the pressure is now on to live up to that standard or surpass it.
He said it: "For me to say we have to get [to the championship] next year, that's like talking about having to go fly to the moon. We're nowhere near having that conversation. You know what we really have to do? We have to find out who can play defensive line for us. We lost some really good players." -- Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer