Ohio State Buckeyes: Rashad Frazier

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Can the Buckeyes' defensive line live up to the hype?

There's not really any uncertainty or much reason to doubt the deepest unit on the roster and perhaps the most talented group of starting defensive linemen in the nation, though perhaps that might be the only thing that could potentially become an issue for the Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMINoah Spence is suspended for the first two games of the season, but with the depth Ohio State has on the defensive line, the Buckeyes should be fine.
It seems unlikely that a group, led by one of the program's most respected leaders in defensive tackle Michael Bennett, would fall victim to its own hype. Finding the motivation to tap into the potential that has Urban Meyer and the coaching staff drooling over the possibilities would seem to be the only possible hurdle keeping the Buckeyes from making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

After all, there was so much size, speed and skill on hand this spring that Meyer shipped over an 11-game starter last season -- Joel Hale -- to the offensive line, and he's a senior with just one season of eligibility remaining. The emphasis on rebuilding the defense on the recruiting trail from the front to back is clearly paying dividends, and the next wave is ready to take over and make an impact.

Joey Bosa and Noah Spence showed what they were capable of last season by combining for 15.5 sacks at defensive end, and the former in particular might have only been scratching the surface of his ability after jumping into the starting lineup as a true freshman when Adolphus Washington struggled with some early injuries. It was Washington who was supposed to form the other half of a terrifying tandem with his classmate Spence, but a new, permanent home on the interior next to Bennett might make the junior even more dangerous, as he hasn't lost any burst while still adding strength to his 6-foot-4, 288-pound frame.

And while that collection of starters might make it tempting for new defensive line coach Larry Johnson to just leave them on the field for the entire game and never look back, the Buckeyes are planning to rotate liberally to keep everybody fresh -- and it's the depth that affords them that option. Players such as Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter are capable of coming in to stuff the run on the interior, and pass rushers such as Steve Miller, Rashad Frazier, Jamal Marcus and Tyquan Lewis each could factor into Ohio State's plans to spell Bosa and Spence.

In fact, somebody will have to fill in for Spence for the first two weeks of the season because of the suspension that started in the Discover Orange Bowl and will keep him out of games against Navy and Virginia Tech.

But even answering the question of who will take his place temporarily won't likely be one that causes the Buckeyes to lose any sleep.
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.

Position preview: Defensive line

August, 21, 2013
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp winds down and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Top of the depth chart: Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence at end with Michael Bennett and Joel Hale on the interior

Next in line: Ankle injuries in spring practice kept Tommy Schutt from making it a three-man rotation in the middle, but he is healthy now and pushing for work at tackle along with the more veteran starters. Chris Carter isn’t exactly slim and probably never will be, but he has shed some weight and could be a valuable run-stopper when the situation is right. Rashad Frazier has emerged as a viable option at end, and the transition of Jamal Marcus from linebacker a year ago to pass-rushing threat on the edge has apparently been a success as he and Steve Miller offer two more useful bodies off the bench.

New faces: For all of Urban Meyer’s history on offense, he long has made an emphasis on stocking his team with athletes on the defensive line capable of wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. After losing all four starters from the 2012 line, the Buckeyes were perhaps more intent than usual on stocking up for the future in the trenches, and freshmen such as Joey Bosa, Michael Hill, Tracy Sprinkle and Tyquan Lewis all could play a role in the rebuilding of the unit as early as this season.

Recruiting trail: Even with all four projected starters set to return after this season, the focus on finding more potential game-changers up front hasn’t changed at all for Meyer. The class of commits already includes a pair of linemen, including ESPN300 end Jalyn Holmes (Norfolk, Va./Lake Taylor), a versatile athlete who checks in at 6-foot-5 and has enough mobility to play on either side of the ball potentially.

Flexibility: The plan heading into the season is to rotate through about eight guys up front, which wasn’t something the Buckeyes ever could really do a year ago while still easing Spence and Washington into the mix during their first seasons on campus. Ohio State can’t lean on a group of veterans to carry the load this time, though, and the development of the second unit could be critical as the season progresses. There’s no real question about who the starters are, but for all the talent Spence and Washington bring to the lineup, this will still be their first full year in the Big Ten grind as regulars.

Notable numbers:

  • Despite his relatively limited role a year ago, Washington’s three sacks represent the highest returning total among linemen. John Simon’s nine takedowns led the team, and linebacker Ryan Shazier finished second with five -- so the Buckeyes are certainly looking for more individual production from the next wave up front.
  • Bennett appeared in only eight games and chipped in just 11 tackles due to a nagging groin injury, but before his health became a concern, the Buckeyes had big plans for him as a sophomore with Meyer labeling him as one of his top four linemen. Ohio State will need him to live up to that billing on the inside this fall.
Big question: How good can the super sophomores be?

There may have been some uncertainty heading to spring practice as the Ohio State staff faced the daunting task of replacing six starters in the front seven -- including the entire defensive line. But it didn’t take long for Spence and Washington to start easing some minds and allowing the coaches to get some sleep. The two are freakishly talented and perfect complements to each other, with Spence a speedy blur off the edge and Washington a powerful force capable of bulling over blockers on the way to the quarterback. Neither has been called on for regular work over a complete season at this level, though, so despite the high expectations, there’s still plenty left to prove on the field. The way the two of them hold up physically as they tap into that enormous potential will be critical in determining just how much of a threat the Buckeyes can pose to opposing offenses this season.

Rising stock: Noah Spence

May, 2, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With spring practice in the books and Ohio State heading into its offseason conditioning program, BuckeyeNation is looking at the players who boosted their stock with the program the most during those 15 workouts. The offense went first last week, and it's now followed up by a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall.

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMINoah Spence's physical skills, along with the experience he gained as a freshman, make him an intriguing player to watch.
No. 2: Noah Spence

  • Who: As one of the crown jewels of Urban Meyer's first recruiting class a year ago and also one of the true freshmen who chipped in on the way to perfection last fall, the defensive end isn't coming from nowhere to claim a first-team job. His current trajectory isn't surprising given his impressive physical attributes and the flashes of potential he showed in his limited game action behind Ohio State's veteran line last season. But neither of those factors should diminish the importance of his productive spring or the improvement he showed dominating drills even against respected blockers such as senior Jack Mewhort, as Spence solidified himself as a cornerstone of the rebuilding project on a defensive line that lost all four starters.
  • Spring progress: The Buckeyes are counting on Spence to take a step forward in all aspects of his game, but his natural tools and his game experience gave him a bit of a head start. Physically, Spence looked stronger in his upper body and hadn't sacrificed any of his trademark burst off the edge. But it was mental improvement that Spence was more focused on during workouts after admitting that he leaned heavily on his motor and energy to make up for his youthful lack of awareness.
  • Jockeying for position: There wasn't really any doubt heading into March about where Spence's name would be on the depth chart, and if there had been, it was completely gone after the spring game concluded camp. With the Buckeyes settled at end with Adolphus Washington complementing Spence on the other side, they can turn their attention during training camp to which guys are most capable of providing some breaks for the starters -- with Steve Miller, Rashad Frazier and Jamal Marcus leading the group of candidates.
  • He said it: "I pretty much try to go hard every play like it’s my last play. That’s probably the biggest thing I have going for me. I don’t always know what I’m doing, probably half the time I don’t know. I’m going to give 100 percent effort on every play." -- Spence
  • Closing number: Tackling Braxton Miller is a bit tougher than just slapping a couple hands on him, so the sacks on the Ohio State quarterback in the spring game come with some grains of salt. But no matter the degree of difficulty, Spence racking up three sacks in the exhibition game in Cincinnati only offered more evidence that he's ready for more responsibility -- and the added buzz that comes with it.
John Simon flourished at the LEO position in the Ohio State defense in 2012.

The standup defensive end recorded 44 tackles -- 14 for loss -- nine sacks and forced a fumble in his nine games for Ohio State.

The next in line for the Buckeyes are players who likely are already familiar to fans as Noah Spence, Jamal Marcus, Steve Miller, Tracy Sprinkle and transfer Rashad Frazier have played this spring.

But who comes after that?

Current freshman Tyquan Lewis could fill in there as well, but all eyes have turned to 2014 and who might be in the mix.

Rashad Frazier's stint at Purdue didn't work out. So he's heading back to his home state.

Frazier hasn't seen action in either of the last two seasons after initially redshirting with the Boilermakers in 2010, and he still won't be eligible to play this year after transferring to Ohio State. But if he's able to shake off some understandable rust, the 6-foot-4, 270-pounder could possibly provide some depth on the defensive line -- though given his level of experience, he's likely a project.

Frazier recorded 55 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a senior at Middletown (Ohio) High School, but that was his only season of action at that level and he didn't appear in a game at Purdue.

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