Ohio State Buckeyes: Michael Hill

Now that spring practice has played out in the Big Ten, we thought we'd try to identify the best overall position group on any team in the league.

Had we done this exercise last year, we might have chosen the Michigan State secondary, a.k.a., the "No-Fly Zone." Ohio State's offensive line would have ranked highly as well, along with Wisconsin's running backs, Iowa's linebackers and Indiana's receivers.

This season, there is once again some stiff competition. The Badgers' running backs are still impressive, with Corey Clement joining the cast in a bigger role with Melvin Gordon. Nebraska's backs are also strong, with Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross. You could make a case for Michigan State's defensive line, even with two new starting tackles, simply because of the sheer talent of Shilique Calhoun and underappreciated senior Marcus Rush. Other units that could be very strong include Iowa's offensive line, Michigan's linebackers and Maryland's receivers, if healthy.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDefensive end Joey Bosa made an instant impact as a freshman and helped transform Ohio State's defensive line into the Big Ten's most formidable unit.
But my vote for the Big Ten's best position group goes to Ohio State's defensive line.

It's not a crew that is swimming with All-Americans and award winners, though defensive end Noah Spence and defensive tackle Michael Bennett both made second-team All-Big Ten last season. Still, for sheer talent and depth, it's hard to beat the Buckeyes' defensive front four.

Start with Joey Bosa, who had an outstanding true freshman season with 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2013. He should be even better with a year of experience under his belt, and he's one of the top candidates for Big Ten defensive player-of-the-year honors as a sophomore. At the other end spot is Spence, who finished second in the Big Ten in sacks with eight last fall. The junior will have to serve two more games of his three-game suspension to start the season, but Jamal Marcus showed he can fill in adequately after he had six tackles in a strong Orange Bowl performance.

The Buckeyes aren't huge in the middle with Bennett and Adolphus Washington, who both are listed at 288 pounds. But both are very athletic. Bennett started his career at defensive end, and Washington looked like possibly the best player on the line last spring until he moved back and forth in the fall. The junior has finally found a home at tackle.

"I've picked up about 40 pounds since the end of my senior year of high school," he told ESPN.com. "The defensive end spot became so much harder for me to move and carry all that weight. But I've still got my speed in closer quarters with bigger guys who are much slower than me, so I've still got my advantage."

Washington said that "basically, it's all defensive ends on the field," when Ohio State starts its preferred four. That athleticism can do some major damage.

"We've got guys that can pass rush from any spot on the field, and that’s dangerous," Bennett said. "Who are you going to double team? We all have the mindset that if you’re single-blocked, you should get to the quarterback, and we all have the ability to do that."

New position coach Larry Johnson took over from Mike Vrabel this winter, and the former longtime Penn State assistant wants to rotate guys in much more than his predecessor did. The Buckeyes should have the luxury of depth, especially when Spence returns. Tommy Schutt and the 340-pound Chris Carter can help plug the middle, while Steve Miller, Tracy Sprinkle, Michael Hill, Tyquan Lewis and Purdue transfer Rashad Frazier should all contribute in some form. Jalyn Holmes and Dylan Thompson are 2014 signees who could add even more reinforcements.

Ohio State led the Big Ten in sacks last season and finished third in rush defense despite some soft spots at linebacker. The defensive line returns every player of significance from 2013 and has a lot of young players with room to improve.

"I didn't know we could grow as much as we have this spring," Bennett said.

That's a sobering thought for everyone else, and it's another reason why the Buckeyes' defensive line should be the best position group in the Big Ten.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Breaking down the positions and players who have the most to prove as No. 2 Ohio State opens the season on Saturday against Buffalo (TV: ESPN2, noon).

FIRST DOWN: Defensive tackles

Michael Bennett
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Buckeyes feel good about their DEs, but Michael Bennett and the rest of the Ohio State DTs have something to prove.
The broken bone in Tommy Schutt's foot has thrown another wrench in the rebuilding project for the Buckeyes up front, and they reacted to it swiftly by shuffling Chase Farris back over to defense from the offensive line.

Schutt wasn't listed as a starter on the depth chart for the opener, but the sophomore impressed in limited action last season and had turned in a productive training camp before the injury bug bit him again on Monday. The Buckeyes know what life is like without Schutt after ankle issues limited him throughout spring, but for a unit that is replacing all four starters, having everybody healthy and ready to contribute was obviously important.

Ohio State has no shortage of confidence in Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington at end, but in some respects Joel Hale and Michael Bennett are still unknown quantities despite having been in the program for a couple years. Now with Schutt out and Farris moving to fill the void, the pressure is ramped up for a newcomer such as Michael Hill or sophomore Chris Carter.

SECOND DOWN: Freshmen skill players

The Buckeyes have no shortage of pieces returning from the Big Ten's best offense a season ago, but it's the fresh additions that figure to allow Urban Meyer to truly unleash his spread attack this fall.

They still have to prove themselves in a game though, and Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall are all likely to touch the ball a few times as the Buckeyes evaluate what they have in what is shaping up to be an offensive class capable of making an early impact.

Wilson, in particular, could get his hands on the football right away with Ohio State trotting him out to return kickoffs. His electric speed could be put on display early, but the Buckeyes will really be watching him closely in the H-back role as they try to add more diversity to the playbook.

THIRD DOWN: Cornerbacks

The starting job Armani Reeves is filling this week is only temporary, and the sophomore is well aware of that. But he's got a huge opportunity to impress with Bradley Roby sitting out his one-game suspension, and potentially down the road it might help him make a push for the other first-team job at cornerback.

Doran Grant has something to prove himself after playing minimally in reserve of Roby and Travis Howard a year ago, so the junior bears monitoring as well as he transitions into the starting lineup. There hasn't been any question about the pecking order since spring -- with Roby and Grant leading the way for a talented, deep secondary -- but only one career start separates Grant from Reeves. Both would benefit from making a strong first impression against the Bulls.

FOURTH DOWN: Braxton Miller's arm

The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for the junior's development as a passer, and he publicly lobbied after practice to air the ball out at least 25 times -- then joked that he would call his own plays to get to 30.

If Miller is eager to show off the improvements he's made mechanically both in terms of accuracy and his footwork, the Buckeyes would certainly like to get a gauge of how far he's come in a meaningful setting as well.

There's been little doubt since a productive spring game that Miller is sharper and more confident delivering the football, and he's only had more time to fine tune his arm since then. The Buckeyes were far from a balanced offense last season, rushing twice as often as they passed, with Miller's skills as a runner helping drive up the margin.

But if his arm has managed to make up some ground with his feet, the offense could be unpredictable with what it could do on any down, making it a nightmare to try to defend.

Ohio State 2014 spotlight: DT Ford 

June, 14, 2013
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Throughout the next few months, BuckeyeNation will look further into those juniors offered by Ohio State.

We’ll give as much detail as we can and go behind the scenes to see why these Class of 2014 standouts are so attractive to the Buckeyes.

Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy) might already know what it’s like to play for Ohio State.

The 6-foot-3, 269-pound defensive end can’t help himself because he received an earful from his grandfather Gerald Kasunic growing up. See, Kasunic played for the Buckeyes in the early 1960s so the scarlet and gray has always been a topic of discussion in the Barnett household.

A fan of the Buckeyes, Barnett has heard the stories. Just how many, he’s not sure.

So when Ohio State called with an offer on Wednesday, it took him back a bit.


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videoCOLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State’s defensive line should need no introduction over the next few seasons.

From Noah Spence to Adolphus Washington to Michael Bennett to Joel Hale to Steve Miller to J.T. Moore, the names stick out and are full of potential.

Throw in Chris Carter and Tommy Schutt with newcomers Joey Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Michael Hill, Donovan Munger, Billy Price and Tracy Sprinkle and the future looks bright.

So why would defensive end Dylan Thompson (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic) throw his name in the mix and join the 2014 pledges as future Buckeyes?


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Throughout the next few months, BuckeyeNation will look further into those juniors offered by Ohio State. We’ll give as much detail as we can and go behind the scenes to see why these Class of 2014 standouts are so attractive to the Buckeyes. Next on the list is defensive tackle Dylan Thompson, who hails from the same high school as former Buckeyes nose tackle Garrett Goebel.

Vitals: Dylan Thompson (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic) is 6-foot-5 and 274 pounds.

Status: He committed to Ohio State on March 23 during an unofficial visit.


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When juniors put up the type of numbers Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head) registered last season, it’s hard not to notice.

Few haven’t, as the 6-foot, 285-pound defensive tackle now counts over 15 offers with the latest coming from Ohio State on Wednesday.


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Ohio State is nothing new to ESPN Watch List defensive end Verondtae Wilkinson (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood-Madison), but the Buckeyes certainly opened his eyes on Thursday.

In town for an unofficial visit, Wilkinson thought he knew the ins and outs of Ohio State. His former teammate Cam Burrows is now a cornerback for the Buckeyes, so it should have been the same old same old right?

Wrong.


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OSU Mailbag: The promise of 2014 

March, 1, 2013
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It’s time to dip into the BuckeyeNation recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions.

We’ll try to keep to five questions a week to give everyone a chance to get their answers.

We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter at @bbournival, e-mail at brad.bournival.espn@gmail.com or by posting a question in the Horseshoe Pit forum.

Here’s the latest installment.


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State of the Rivalry: Defensive line 

February, 26, 2013
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The writers at WolverineNation and BuckeyeNation put their heads together to break down the rivals' 2013 recruiting classes. They'll give readers a position-by-position look at who coaches Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer signed and, ultimately, which class edged out the other. It's too early to say what will happen through the next few seasons, and we won't make any promises except that Hoke and Meyer are going to put talent on the field.


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Spring forward: DTs breakdown

February, 21, 2013
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Johnathan HankinsEric Francis/Getty ImagesOhio State will have to find a way to replace Johnathan Hankins.
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.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

    • 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.

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2014 Michigan DE picks Buckeyes 

February, 10, 2013
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Urban Meyer picked up his second junior in the trenches and raided Michigan again.


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BuckeyeNation signing day recap

February, 6, 2013
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We can almost put a bow on the 2013 recruiting class -- punter Johnny Townsend has not signed his letter of intent and is apparently having second thoughts -- and it was one of the best recruiting classes in school history.

The Buckeyes signed 24 players and finished third in the ESPN class rankings behind SEC powers Alabama and Florida, with 19 of the 24 signees at four stars or more.

Here's a recap of how the day unfolded. Follow the live blog after the jump.

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Meyer building defensive line foundation 

February, 5, 2013
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Urban Meyer builds in the trenches to win championships.

One look at how Florida completely dismantled Ohio State from a defensive standpoint in the national championship game after the 2006 season shows the blueprint.

He piles up defensive linemen in recruiting and wears the competition into submission with a rotating front.

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The Horseshoe isn’t the only place Ohio State beat Michigan this season, as the Buckeyes’ 2013 recruiting class is currently ahead of the Wolverines after the final ESPN 150 and 300 lists were released.


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