Ohio State Buckeyes: John Simon

Buckeyes' Shazier in position for hardware

November, 27, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is a goal that hasn’t been checked off the list yet, perhaps the only hole on the résumé.

Ryan Shazier is quick to point it out, too, drawing attention to seemingly the only thing the Ohio State junior hasn’t done during one of the most prolific individual seasons in the country.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteRyan Shazier started at Ohio State as a true freshman. Will he impress the Steelers enough this summer to start as a rookie?
He leads the Big Ten in tackles. He spends as much time in opposing backfields as the offenses he has been sabotaging with such regularity. His combination of unnatural speed and fierce hitting has produced four fumbles.

But there’s still that one thing left for Shazier that would put the finishing touches on his personal to-do list and potentially put him over the top in the race to be honored as the nation’s best linebacker, an award that wasn’t on the checklist but he has made well known he’d like to win.

“I just wrote down my seasonal goals, what I wanted the team to do and what I wanted myself to do,” Shazier said. “I’m kind of meeting some of those goals right now, and that’s putting me in position for these awards right now.

“But I haven’t really caught an interception this year, and I planned on catching an interception. Pretty much everything else is going as planned.”

The script wasn’t necessarily designed to win Shazier individual acclaim, but that was certainly in the back of his mind when he wrote it after dealing the minor disappointment of being overlooked a year ago.

Shazier was every bit as effective for the Buckeyes as a sophomore, racking up tackles with ease, blowing up plays behind the line of scrimmage and, of course, nabbing an interception and returning it for a touchdown for a team that went undefeated. His numbers across the board compared favorably with Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, another linebacker for a team that went unbeaten during the regular season, but instead of earning an invitation to the Heisman Trophy celebration, Shazier wasn’t even voted the best player on his unit as John Simon claimed Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

For a team-first, well-respected leader for Ohio State, coming up short to Simon wasn’t exactly an issue for Shazier, but he wasn't even voted a first-team all-conference linebacker by the coaches despite leading the league in total tackles and tackles for loss. And he was aware of how his season stacked up with other linebackers not only in the Big Ten but around the country as well, and in topping it this year with 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles so far, he’s made it almost impossible to ignore him now.

“I was a little bit surprised,” Shazier said. “It was like, I saw some of my numbers added up against some of those other good players. But I knew with the circumstances we were going through [with a postseason ban], something like that could happen so I wasn’t all that surprised.

“It’s really important to be up for those types of awards because it’s always been a dream of mine to be one of the best players in the nation and one of the best players at my position.”

Shazier might not be in the Heisman conversation as the top overall player in the country, but he’s built a legitimate case at his position and is already a Butkus Award finalist.

In some ways, he remains in the shadow of other decorated teammates, with quarterback Braxton Miller restarting his Heisman campaign after an early injury and running back Carlos Hyde emerging as a possible conference player of the year option as well. But considering what else is on his preseason checklist, that certainly won’t bother him like the lack of an interception would.

“I’m just doing what I have to do for the team,” Shazier said. “Right now, I’m just happy that our team is one of the best teams in the nation.

“When you’re one of the best teams in the nation, everybody on the team is a good player.”

There aren’t enough trophies, though, to honor everybody. But if Shazier can add one more thing to his resume, there could be one with his name on it.

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.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The wait is over. The season might not be here yet, but football is officially returning with the start of training camp on Sunday.

So after an offseason filled with questions about issues away from the field, the focus is once again back on the game itself. And these five topics will be worth monitoring as Ohio State reports for practice with the great expectations that come with being ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll.

Who is ready to lead?

Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer would love to see more vocal leadership from quarterback Braxton Miller this fall.
The Buckeyes don't take the captaincy lightly, and the value coach Urban Meyer has put on leadership has never been in doubt, particularly given how much credit the senior class received for the unbeaten season a year ago.

That makes identifying the right group of veterans to take that torch incredibly important for Meyer as he tries to light a path to the national championship, and while a couple of clear choices have emerged to be the face of the program, August will be critical in finding a few more veterans to set the tone.

Left tackle Jack Mewhort and safety Christian Bryant both have emerged as respected voices in the locker room, and Braxton Miller is also starting to find his footing as a more vocal presence. But a couple of other guys who had high hopes of being in that mix are currently or will be facing discipline for issues last month, which will make it pretty unlikely cornerback Bradley Roby or running back Carlos Hyde will be tabbed for a captaincy. Seniors like Philly Brown, Corey Linsley and C.J. Barnett could fill that void, and junior linebacker Ryan Shazier will need to set an example on defense as well.

What's the state of the passing attack?

Miller will always go under the microscope first, and the quarterback is usually the safest place to start in breaking down a passing game. But he certainly wasn't the only one responsible for some numbers through the air that weren't up to Meyer's standards last season.

Miller has worked hard on his footwork and should be much more at ease with the playbook entering his second year in the spread, but he could also use some better route-running, fewer drops and a bit more depth at wide receiver as Meyer looks for more diversity in his attack. Brown should provide some reliability after a productive junior season, and if he builds on the end of it where he consistently looked like a threat to explode after the catch, that alone will make the Buckeyes more dangerous. But he needs some help from freakishly athletic counterpart Devin Smith, rising sophomore Michael Thomas, veterans Chris Fields and Evan Spencer and a handful of newcomers to help keep the coverage honest.

Are the youngsters ready up front?

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesAfter an eye-popping spring game, defensive end Noah Spence is eager to prove himself in games that count.
The spring game only dumped more gasoline on what was already a bonfire of hype, with Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington stealing the show by combining for seven sacks. But that was only an exhibition, and the Buckeyes are counting on production from those sophomores when it matters.

All four starters are gone from the defensive line a year ago, and while the interior spots are obviously more unsettled than the starting jobs at end, the pressure to perform and the attention will weigh more heavily on Spence and Washington. Both showed flashes of what they could do when given a chance as true freshmen a year ago, but they'll be expected to play like seniors now that John Simon and Nathan Williams are gone.

Can Taylor Decker keep the offensive line at the top of the Big Ten?

Ohio State has fewer concerns about its offensive line than just about any program in the country, and a unit with four returning starters who are all seniors might be more than any other staff would even think to wish for. But that didn't stop Meyer from doing a bit of hand-wringing in the spring about filling the fifth spot at right tackle, and he didn't leave practice in April officially settled on who that guy would be.

It's clear now that Decker will get the nod, and the oversized sophomore will have eyes on him throughout camp to ensure that he's capable of seamlessly replacing Reid Fragel for a unit that was a significant factor in the perfect season last year. Chase Farris shared some of the reps with Decker in the spring and his potential continues to excite the coaching staff, but for now Decker has the advantage. But he'll have to prove over and over in August that the edge is real, and if he does, the Buckeyes could pick up right where they left off.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last of the lists is out, and Ohio State has players all over them.

From the offensive line to the secondary, the Buckeyes had more than their share of representatives on the various preseason hype lists, which is no surprise given how high the team will rank collectively when the polls come out ahead of the opener in late August.

Obviously not everybody expected to contribute to a potential national-title run found a way into the minds of the various committees who ultimately will hand out the hardware once an actual season has been played. But just in case there was any confusion, appearing on a watch list in July isn't mandatory to lift an individual trophy in December -- just ask Johnny Manziel.

So with that in mind, BuckeyeNation offers up its own helpful list for potential voters heading into the season, taking a look at some Ohio State players who will bear watching and conceivably could draw some attention to themselves before the year is done.

Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence
  • Who should be watching: Nagurski, Lombardi voters
  • Why: The sophomores didn't play enough a year ago to generate any sort of national buzz, but there's little doubt they each have the athleticism and playmaking ability to become household names quickly this fall. Playing behind veterans in John Simon and Nathan Williams helped bring the talented bookends along slowly while still incorporating them in the rotation during their first year on campus, but the Buckeyes will need to unleash them with those seniors gone and the spots in the starting lineup waiting for Washington and Spence to show their potential off to the rest of the country. The glimpse they showed in the spring game only reinforced how high the ceiling is for the duo, even if it was only a scrimmage.
  • Dark-horse chances: No matter how much damage Washington's strength or Spence's speed inflicts on Ohio State's opponents, neither is likely to seriously challenge a destructive force like Jadeveon Clowney this season. But with breakout campaigns now, they definitely can lay the groundwork for a future run at individual glory as juniors.
Nick Vannett
  • Who should be watching: Mackey committee
  • Why: Jeff Heuerman gave the Buckeyes one entry on the watch list for the nation's best tight end, and he's certainly a deserving candidate who can make life tough for defenders with his ability to create physical mismatches in the passing game while still chipping in as an effective blocker for the rushing attack. But there's another guy on the Ohio State roster who fits that bill as well, and it's the ability to pair Heuerman and Vannett together that could make for weekly headaches for defensive coordinators trying to decipher what Urban Meyer is doing with his spread attack this season.
  • Dark-horse chances: At this point, it would be reasonable and perhaps fair to peg Vannett's chances of winning an individual award at the same level of Heuerman heading into the season. After all, both are going to figure prominently in Ohio State's plans for the offense this year and are equally capable of providing a reliable target for Braxton Miller and building the kind of statistical resume needed to win over voters. That might hurt the chances for both of them in the long run, but Vannett shouldn't be overlooked.
Marcus Hall
  • Who should be watching: Outland, Lombardi voters
  • Why: The Buckeyes have such a rich supply of senior starters, at least one was bound to be overlooked in the offseason. The right guard drew that short straw for Ohio State, but that certainly doesn't make Hall any less important to the offensive line or even that unlikely to draw some sort of individual acclaim by the end of the season. He left camp as perhaps the most improved member of that veteran offensive line, and position coach Ed Warinner wasn't shy about pointing out the refinements Hall made as a technician in the trenches. Perhaps Andrew Norwell, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley were all more deserving of spots on the various watch lists for linemen, but Hall really couldn't have been that far behind.
  • Dark-horse odds: The Buckeyes might have a battle on their hands just to pick the most valuable blocker on their own team, so standing out from the group enough to generate the kind of national support needed to win a personal trophy will be a challenge for all four seniors up front. But at a minimum, Hall's contributions aren't likely to go unappreciated by the Ohio State coaching staff and his teammates.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The wait is almost over. The season is finally creeping up again, and the annual release of preseason watch lists for the biggest awards in college football confirms it -- and helps provide a useful distraction during the final month leading up to the start of training camp. BuckeyeNation will be tracking all the Ohio State players being tracked by the various committees and will be handicapping their odds of bringing a few trophies back to campus along the way.

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesSenior Jack Mewhort has become an anchor for OSU at left tackle.
OUTLAND TROPHY

  • What: The nation's best interior lineman
  • On the list: Ohio State seniors Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell
  • Credentials: The tandem works seamlessly together on the left side of the Ohio State offensive line, which will ultimately make it hard for any voter to pick between the two of them. But that obviously works to the advantage of the Buckeyes, who know they can count on ferocious effort and a bad attitude with Mewhort and Norwell lining up together to protect Braxton Miller and open holes for an almost unstoppable rushing attack. Mewhort has emerged as one of the most respected leaders on the roster and the heir to John Simon's throne as the captain who goes beyond normal duties to become the "heart and soul" of the program. And while Norwell doesn't typically get as much attention, his development into a reliable blocker on the interior has gone a long way toward helping the spread offense take off. Both guys figure to be even better as the Buckeyes lean on a veteran group of linemen to set the tone this fall.
  • Head to head: Showcase opportunities against other linemen currently being watched by the committee -- Deandre Coleman (DT, California), Ryan Groy (OT, Wisconsin), DaQuan Jones (DT, Penn State), Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan), John Urschel (OG, Penn State), Brandon Vitabile (C, Northwestern).
  • Odds: Teammates competing for the same award can make it more difficult for one to rise up and snag the hardware, and particularly with Mewhort and Norwell standing right next to each other in the formation, it might be difficult for either to get an edge with voters. Complicating matters even more is that center Corey Linsley is another veteran expected to have a big season, and another senior, right guard Marcus Hall, left spring practice as perhaps the most improved player of the bunch. But again, that potential loss individually for the Buckeyes is a huge part of the reason the team is setting the bar so high this season.

Leaving a legacy: Jack Mewhort

June, 28, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The final chapter hasn't been written yet for Ohio State's senior class, and a handful of Buckeyes have a chance to author something pretty memorable. This week, we'll be looking at five players with a chance to leave a legacy with the program with one more productive season, what kind of impact they might have this fall and how they might be viewed down the road.

Jack Mewhort
    [+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
    Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesLeft tackle Jack Mewhort will be asked to become a visible and vocal leader for the 2013 Buckeyes.

  • So far: The nasty, physical left tackle from Toledo isn't the only veteran lineman with a chance to leave the program on a high note, and the presence of three more senior starters up front is a major factor in the national-title buzz that is building for Ohio State. That group typically spreads around the credit and the attention, and Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall each deserve praise for the work they've done with the Buckeyes. But individually, Mewhort has become the leader of not only his position group but potentially the entire team, developing into the type of driven leader so highly valued by Urban Meyer. The Ohio State coach hasn't been shy about backing Mewhort's candidacy as the heart and soul of the team, and he has taken it even further by mentioning him in the same category as former captains like Tim Tebow and John Simon. Like any blocker, there isn't much statistical evidence to measure Mewhort's impact by himself -- but he's certainly integral in maintaining a winning culture across the team.
  • Numbers to date: A second-team All-Big Ten pick as a junior, Mewhort anchored an offensive line that helped the Buckeyes rack up more than 242 rushing yards per game to rank No. 10 in the country on the ground. And while they only might have been scratching the surface of what they can do in Meyer's spread offense, the 37.1 points per game the Buckeyes averaged led the conference.
  • Record chasing: The record books might need a number of updates for scoring and yardage if all goes according to plan this fall, which starts with keeping Mewhort healthy and able to continue his streak of consecutive starts. That number sits at 25 heading into the season, and perhaps more impressively includes appearances at three different positions on the line.
  • What's next: The focus always will be on the players who touch the football, and the Buckeyes are pretty well stocked with guys capable of ringing up head-turning statistics. But Braxton Miller needs time to throw, Devin Smith and Philly Brown have to be able to complete their routes and Carlos Hyde and a deep backfield aren't going far without holes to run through, and that all starts with Mewhort and and the front five on offense. Meyer made sure last year to call attention to the job all of those guys did, but their contributions might still have been undervalued at times. Establishing Mewhort as one of the leading voices for the program, though, could change that and shine the spotlight a little brighter on the dirty work in the trenches.
  • Crystal ball: Probably more than any other position, reputations for linemen are often forged by team success as opposed to individual dominance. Mewhort will have some versatility working in his favor when his career is analyzed down the road, and obviously he already has been a part of an undefeated season. But if he's widely recognized as the torchbearer for a team that follows that up with a run to a national title, he'll at least have a framed jersey hanging in Meyer's office in the practice facility.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Leadership is the factor Urban Meyer always points to first with teams that accomplish something special, and it's hard to argue with somebody who already owns two national championship rings.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Sam RicheLed by QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State should be even more productive on offense in 2013.
But that quality is too hard to quantify, so ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein went looking for some numbers that would indicate a team is on the path to a crystal football and found some common threads for the last seven teams to raise one at the end of the season.

Borrowing from his results and applying them to Ohio State, last season's team would have fit pretty neatly into the mold with only one exception. And now heading into a year that won't include a postseason ban, the Buckeyes appear to have all the hallmarks of team that could win it all so we break down each of the characteristics and analyze the likelihood of them becoming a perfect fit for a crown.

Criteria for a champion

Rank 38th or better in rushing offense
Last year: No. 10 in the country at 242.3 yards per game
This year: For all the hype and excitement about what Meyer’s spread offense would do for Ohio State’s typically buttoned-down passing game entering his first season with the program, he quickly offered a reminder that his system is based on a successful rushing attack. With Braxton Miller always a threat to break off a long run and Carlos Hyde returning as his tackle-breaking counterpart, not to mention four seniors on the offensive line, the Buckeyes figure to be even more dangerous on the ground even without involving a deeper stable of tailbacks or speedy freshmen capable of playing the famed H-back position.

Finish 23rd or better in scoring offense
Last year: No. 21 with 37.2 points per game
This year: As powerful as the rushing attack is likely to be, the Buckeyes might really start lighting up the scoreboard if a full year in the system allows the passing game to reach another level. By their own admission, the wide receivers were a bit overwhelmed with their responsibilities at times a year ago, and Miller clearly didn’t always look like he knew where the football needed to go. But Philly Brown and Devin Smith are more polished now on the perimeter, Chris Fields, Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas have added some experience and a talented group of newcomers is on the way for fall camp. Ohio State should only improve its point total this fall.

(Read full post)

Hands-on Vrabel making an impact

June, 25, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The workout itself is relatively simple, and Mike Vrabel isn’t opposed to sharing it with anybody driven enough, or perhaps crazy enough, to try it.

So in a high school science lab in Detroit, the Ohio State defensive line coach stands in front of a room full of campers to demonstrate how they can build their strength, improve their ability to fight off blockers and maybe get a vice-grip handshake just like that of a 14-year NFL veteran.

All they have to do to get started is swap out the dry-erase board Vrabel is chopping with his unprotected hands for a brick wall.

Mike Vrabel
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteMike Vrabel uses "violent hands" to wave a player off the field in 2012.
“We worked with a couple guys in New England that were big on martial arts, big with playing with violent hands,” Vrabel said. “We developed that idea that we’d go over there and just pound our hands against a brick wall and try to make them as strong as we possibly could.

“I told my guys, it’s the same reason Bruce Lee used to kick a tree.”

Vrabel was turning his hands into weapons of destruction back then, and while they’re every bit as powerful now as they were during his playing days, they’ve since become tools of construction heading into his third season on the sidelines as an assistant coach at Ohio State.

He’s not afraid to use them with his players, either, and his hands-on approach combined with the rest of a body recently removed from a long, productive career in the NFL has clearly made him a valuable asset for the Buckeyes.

Need some fine-tuning with technique? Vrabel is more than willing to jump into position and provide an up-close example of how to get it done.

Proof that he knows what he’s talking about? Film is readily available of his record-setting stint with the Buckeyes or his three Super Bowl runs with the New England Patriots. It's a career that at least one of his pupils has admitted to studying since Vrabel returned to campus.

And with his track record and an aggressive approach that sometimes makes it look like he’s the one preparing to play a game on the weekend, the transition to coaching has apparently been every bit as easy as it was quick when he retired in 2011 and instantly earned a job offer at his alma mater.

“It’s been everything that I thought it would be, and probably more,” said Vrabel, 37. “I can’t do it anymore [physically]. In my mind I think I can, but I know my body can’t. So I try to give them everything that I’m thinking in my head to help them go out there.

“I would still be playing if I could. That’s what I tell them all the time. But now I think you just try to take in the different players that you’ve played with or worked with over the course of a 14-year career, then try to say, ‘This might work for you. So-and-so did it like this and it worked well for him.’ You give a little testimonial to them, and sometimes that works.”

That advice extends far beyond the finer points of unleashing karate against a wall, and Vrabel has no shortage of experience to lean on as he continues settling in to life as a coach.

He’s obviously loaded with tricks of the trade on the field, but he also has diet tips. He certainly has a deep catalog of schemes and playbooks, but he’s also learned how to motivate under championship coaches such as Bill Cowher and Bill Belichick.

And while Vrabel admitted that his first season back with the Buckeyes was operated “by the seat of my pants,” it hasn't taken him long to get a handle on the far-ranging responsibilities away from the practice field. He knows how to win over his room and get the results a team with national-title aspirations requires.

[+] EnlargeVrabel
Stew Milne/US PresswireMike Vrabel was a third-round draft pick and played in the NFL for 14 seasons.
“He emphasized a lot of things, and I started to watch a lot of tape on him because I feel like we’re kind of similar players,” former OSU defensive end John Simon said. “What worked for him ended up working for me on the field a little bit, and I tried to incorporate that into my game.

“I don’t think playing in the league for 14 years hurts him. He’s a very prideful guy, and he has that personality that you just want to follow him when he starts talking. Then, with his track record of NFL success and college success on top of it, it makes him a terrific coach.”

And while shaking his hand or watching him move around during practice can sometimes make it seem like he should still be in pads, Vrabel makes it quite clear he’s content with a teaching role.

He’s still going to mix it up with his hands when needed, but brick walls are probably safe around Vrabel these days.

“It’s just trying to be creative,” he said. “It’s trying to be innovative enough that you can be ahead of the curve, doing things other people aren’t doing and not doing the same things over and over and over.

“Any defensive lineman that didn’t play with his hands wasn’t as good as he could be.”

That same approach apparently applies to coaching them, too.
With spring in the books for more than a month, the long march through the offseason and back to football is only beginning. But BuckeyeNation is going to keep doing its part to speed up the journey -- or at least make it more interesting. This week, that means a bunch of countdown lists, continuing today with a look at the most valuable Buckeyes coming out of spring practice and how it compares to the last breakdown of the 2012 season.

Ohio State 10: Post-spring power rankings, 6-10

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesBig things are expected of defensive end Adolphus Washington.
No. 6: DE Adolphus Washington

  • Last ranking: None
  • Last No. 6: DE John Simon
  • Spring movement: The sophomore isn't yet a proven commodity on a game-by-basis in the Big Ten, but he's stepping into big shoes and looks more than capable of putting his own footprints all over the league in his first season as a starter. Washington closed his camp with a flourish thanks to four sacks in the exhibition game in Cincinnati, but it was actually his sack and forced fumble in the win over Michigan last fall that really started to build the buzz for the physical, nimble big man on the edge. The Buckeyes are counting on him to deliver on some expectations that are pretty high heading into summer.
  • Key stat: Washington was largely limited to a supporting role during his first year on campus, but he made the most of his chances by chipping in three sacks off the bench -- turning them into a combined loss of 27 yards for opponents.
No. 7: WR Philly Brown

  • Last ranking: No. 5
  • Last No. 7: FB/LB Zach Boren
  • Spring movement: The Buckeyes have plenty of new faces coming in to lend a hand in the passing game, but Brown will again be the guy Braxton Miller looks for first after the two hooked up 60 times last fall. The big difference for Brown as a senior, though, figures to be how much more he can do with the football once he gets it. Urban Meyer gave the receiver a hard time early last season for his inability to make a defender miss, but that steadily improved throughout the season and doesn't look like it will be a factor again moving forward based on his agility and decisive cuts in camp.
  • Key stat: He definitely kept the chains moving, but among the Buckeyes who finished with double-digit receptions last fall, Brown ranked last in that group of four in terms of yards per catch at 11.1 yards. As that total goes up, so will the point total for Ohio State.
No. 8: DE Noah Spence

  • Last ranking: None
  • Last No. 8: DT Johnathan Hankins
  • Spring movement: The Buckeyes only had a glimpse at what the freakishly fast Spence could do as a freshman, but that was enough for them to feel good about plugging him in as a starter on the first day of spring camp. By the end of it, the defensive staff had even less reason to worry after the sophomore flashed his athleticism with three sacks in the spring game -- a performance that defensive line coach Mike Vrabel indicated wasn't even his best during camp. Ohio State appears locked and loaded on both edges, and it needs both Spence and Washington to live up to the hype for a completely rebuilt defensive line.
  • Key stat: The Buckeyes had no shortage of guys contribute at least one sack, but among the linemen, Washington actually finished second in that group with just three quarterback takedowns -- well behind Simon's nine. Spence offered up one as a freshman, but that number should improve dramatically and help the Buckeyes find a tandem capable of balancing the pass rush on both sides.
No. 9: FS Christian Bryant

  • Last ranking: No. 9
  • Spring movement: The experience on defense is stockpiled in the secondary, and no voice figures to carry as easily to the front as that of the senior safety. Bryant has made plenty of noise in the past with his vicious hits and a couple notable penalty flags, but there were few players more steady from the start of the undefeated season to the end of it as the ball hawk in the back end. The challenge for Bryant as he takes the next step is turning a few more of his passes defended into interceptions, and off the field he's embracing the fact that the pressure to mold a young defense is partially falling on his shoulders.
  • Key stat: Bryant did his part to create some turnovers with two forced fumbles, a recovery and an interception. But it's the last number where the Buckeyes see the most room for improvement. He broke up 12 passes in 2012 but only kept his hands on one.
No. 10: DT Michael Bennett

  • Last ranking: None
  • Last No. 10: CB Travis Howard
  • Spring movement: Bennett won't be approaching his position on the interior the same way his predecessor did, for obvious reasons. But what the junior might lack in size compared to big Johnathan Hankins, he can make up for with technique and speed on the interior. The Buckeyes aren't expecting that change in style to be an issue, and after Bennett was able to stay healthy throughout the spring, that potential doubt about him might be erased as well.
  • Key stat: A nagging groin injury limited Bennett to just eight games, and even when he was on the field, his workload was lighter than expected for somebody who entered the year as a potential starter. The Buckeyes will need a full season from Bennett, and definitely could use more than the 11 tackles he contributed as a sophomore.
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 during spring workouts. Last week it was the offense, and now we'll look at a handful of defenders who will be in line for heavy workloads this fall.

No. 1: Adolphus Washington

    • Who: Early in camp, the practice-field highlights of fellow sophomore defensive end Noah Spence overshadowed Washington. Even midway through camp, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer wasn't quite seeing the consistent dominance he was hoping for from a well-built pass-rusher with so much potential. But down the stretch Washington consistently put everything together, stamping himself as a potential worthy heir to John Simon and a developing force with whom the Big Ten will have to contend for at least the next season. With his strength and a frame that tips the scales at nearly 300 pounds, Washington already has seen time on both the inside and the outside of the line. The sack and forced fumble from the edge last year against Michigan provided some evidence that position suits him best, though, and with Washington figuring out how to play with that urgency more regularly, he's clearly got some momentum at that spot moving forward.

 

  • Spring progress: Washington essentially showed up on campus last year physically ready for the game at this level, and he's only going to get stronger as he spends more time in Ohio State's rigorous offseason conditioning program. So that's not an area that will force position coach Mike Vrabel to worry much. Instead he can emphasize fine-tuning technical issues with Washington and motivating him to tap further into his vast potential. The Buckeyes might not have seen instant results, but by the 15th and final workout of camp there might not have been another player on the roster who had done more to win over the coaching staff.
  • Jockeying for position: With speed that is almost frightening given his stature, Washington is more than capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge while providing plenty of support against the run, thanks to his 292 pounds. That package will continue to give the Buckeyes flexibility, as he can easily transition from tackle to end, and vice versa. At this point, Washington appears best suited to playing outside, particularly with Michael Bennett, Joel Hale, Chris Carter and Tommy Schutt available to fill out the rotation on the interior. But depending on the situation and the formation, Washington's set of skills could be put to use in a variety of ways.
  • He said it: "Adolphus Washington has really raised his level of play, he’s a legitimate player, he’s a starter at Ohio State. You saw him today just have his way with our offensive line at times, and he could be a very good player." -- Meyer, after the spring game
  • Closing number: The sacks were easier to come by with quarterback Braxton Miller in a black, non-contact jersey, and his offensive line was also missing a couple starters. But regardless of the degree of difficulty or who was blocking, racking up four sacks in the spring game while making it look routine to get in the backfield offered some public evidence of how destructive Washington could become for the Buckeyes -- validating Meyer's claim a few days before the exhibition that the sophomore's stock was worth buying.

 
2012 record: 12-0

2012 conference record: 8-0 (first, Leaders Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Philly Brown, LT Jack Mewhort, C Corey Linsley, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LB Ryan Shazier

Key losses: RT Reid Fragel, WR Jake Stoneburner, DE John Simon, DE Nathan Williams, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Garrett Goebel, FB/LB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Miller* (1,271 yards, 13 TDs)

Passing: Miller* (2,039 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Brown* (60 catches, 669 yards, 3 TDs)

Tackles: Shazier* (115)

Sacks: Simon (9)

Interceptions: Howard (4)

Spring answers:

1. End game: The Buckeyes have to replace all four starters up front, and while the defensive line isn't quite as deep and is far from a finished product, the future looks pretty bright on the edge. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were among the top prizes in Urban Meyer's first recruiting class with the Buckeyes, and that talent is already starting to shine through as they slide into first-team roles heading into the fall. Spence is a dynamic force with his ability to use speed to get to the quarterback, and Washington isn't exactly sluggish despite all the strength in his 293-pound frame. The two combined for seven sacks in the spring game, and the Buckeyes are expecting similar performances when it actually counts.

2. Air it out: Miller has proven what he can do with his legs, and Ohio State didn't really need to see him show them off in the spring. The emphasis was on continuing to develop the junior quarterback as a passer, which meant a heavy dose of play calls forcing him to put the ball in the air and a quick whistle if he tried to scramble. The results for Meyer were encouraging. His efficient, 16-for-25, 217-yard performance in the spring game showed a much more accurate delivery and better decision-making that hints at bigger things from the fifth-place finisher in last year's Heisman Trophy race.

3. Backfield stable: One thing that might keep Hyde from giving Meyer a 1,000-yard running back this season is all the teammates fighting to snag a few of his carries. The rising senior is the clear cut No. 1 to partner with Miller in the backfield, and Hyde didn't have to earn that job in the spring after piling up touchdowns last fall and finally tapping into his enormous potential as a rusher. But while he was watching some reps, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball all showed their upside this spring, which has the Buckeyes even toying with a diamond formation that gets three tailbacks on the field at the same time.

Fall questions

1. Filling out the front seven: Shazier is certainly a fine place for any defense to start, but the Buckeyes would obviously prefer if there were at least one other returning starter joining him in the front seven. There are high hopes again for junior Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, but he's been tabbed as a first-team guy before coming out of spring only to fizzle in the fall. Ohio State will need Grant and sophomore Joshua Perry to help lead the charge as it tries to add depth and talent at linebacker to stabilize a defense that will feature a lot of new faces.

2. Fresh blood: There wasn't a great option to fill Meyer's vaunted H-back position last fall, so the Buckeyes effectively had to put the hybrid spot, made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida, on the shelf. Jordan Hall's return from injury makes him a candidate to diversify the offense, but a handful of recruits the Buckeyes landed in Meyer's second class would could really take the spread to another level. Speed-burners such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall will be watched closely in August as they could become factors for the Buckeyes as early as September.

3. Something special: If the Buckeyes score as easily and often as it appears they might, maybe it won't matter who handles the kicking game. But Meyer has always taken pride in his special teams, and at this point there is still some uncertainty as Drew Basil is pressed into action as both a kicker and a punter. In the big picture, the changes on defense are far more critical -- but close games usually pop up along the way for teams trying to win a championship, and Basil might need to pass some tests for the Buckeyes.
Adolphus WashingtonKhris Hale/Icon SMIAdolphus Washington came on strong toward the end of spring practice.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just a few days before the latest public offering, Urban Meyer did a bit of insider trading and handed out a hot tip.

The Ohio State coach was already buying what Adolphus Washington was selling as camp came to a close, heaping praise on the sophomore defensive end before the rest of the country could get a glimpse at the progress he had made since last season with a grand unveiling in the spring game.

Meyer’s advice proved prophetic on a sunny afternoon in Cincinnati that was dominated by Washington’s power and strength as a pass rusher. The rising sophomore turned in a performance that would make any early investors in him quite pleased as the Buckeyes head into the summer conditioning program.

“I don’t know about the first half of spring,” Meyer said. “I wasn’t buying that stock. But I’m buying it now.”

After making a habit of ruining the pocket for quarterback Braxton Miller and piling up four sacks in the exhibition game, there might not be anybody whose value increased more than Washington’s by the time spring officially came to a close.

The Buckeyes were already expecting him to be an integral part of their portfolio on the defensive line, and he didn’t exactly come from nowhere to win a starting job since he had been penciled in as a starter since the day John Simon’s career with the program ended.

Washington provided a glimpse at his potential while filling the shoes of the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in the season-ending win over Michigan, delivering a critical sack and forced fumble after being pressed into action when Simon was a late scratch due to injury. There’s a significant difference, though, between plugging a hole for a game and becoming a consistent force for an entire season, and Washington hasn’t been shy about admitting he wasn’t ready to do that as a freshman.

But with the Buckeyes needing to replace Simon and the other three starters up front, they no longer had much time to wait for Washington to figure out how to do it. And even if he got off to a sluggish start in spring, he certainly finished it on the right track.

“I just go out and compete, because that was one of my biggest problems last year,” Washington said. “I didn’t go out there and play hard every play, and everybody knows John Simon, that’s what he does.

“It’s like, we just have to go out there and compete every play, because if we let down just one play, we know that the eyes are already on us. ... I have to compete every play, and it’s starting to become a habit.”

That change in attitude was clearly producing results in a scrimmage setting, and Washington was also making it a habit to easily find his way into the offensive backfield and slap some hands on the quarterback.

His sack total might be somewhat inflated since Miller was in a black jersey and shielded from contact, lowering the degree of difficulty to bring down the elusive quarterback. But even if that number might not tell the entire story, there was no underselling how miserable his combination of power and speed at 6-foot-3, 292 pounds can make life for anybody trying to block him -- and Meyer didn’t need fresh statistics to convince him he had a hot stock on his hands anyway.

“Very talented player,” Meyer said. “Adolphus Washington has really raised his level of play. He’s a legitimate player -- he’s a starter at Ohio State.

“You saw him [in the spring game] just have his way with our offensive line at times, and he could be a very good player.”
Adolphus Washington is a huge part of Ohio State's future on defense, but he hasn't forgotten the Buckeyes' recent past.

Asked to identify his top goal during spring practice, Washington made sure to give a nod to the man who showed him the way in 2012.

"To fill the shoes of John Simon," Washington told ESPN.com. "I know those are some big shoes to fill. I'm just working my hardest to try and do that."

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesAdolphus Washington knows he has some big shoes to fill as he replaces John Simon at defensive end.
Many would say Washington, a 6-foot-3, 292-pound defensive end, boasts more natural ability than Simon, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He undoubtedly came to Columbus as a more decorated recruit, rated as the nation's 65th-best player and No. 7 defensive end in the 2012 class, according RecruitingNation. (Simon had no national ranking when he arrived in 2009.)

But Simon maximized every ounce of talent he had during an exceptional Buckeyes career, earning respect from teammates, fans and coaches, including Urban Meyer, who put Simon in a select category of players he has coached (he hangs Simon's and Tim Tebow's jerseys in his office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center). He attacked the weight room and practices the same way he did the game field on fall Saturdays, and everyone took notice, including a young defensive lineman from Cincinnati.

"His competitive spirit, that's the biggest thing," Washington said. "I'm pretty athletic, and I've got a lot of things God blessed me with to play football, but his competitive spirit is what I take away the most."

Washington is part of a new-look Buckeyes defensive line that must replace Simon and three other starters (tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel, and end Nathan Williams). As a true freshman, Washington appeared in 10 games, logging 156 plays and recording three sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

He recorded two of the sacks in Ohio State's final three games.

"My first game when I went out there, things were just lightning fast," Washington said. "But as the year went on, it kind of slowed down. Now I'm just out there playing, out there competing."

Washington has the size and skills to play both line spots but has been practicing this spring at defensive end. He'll likely start opposite fellow true sophomore Noah Spence, who logged 237 plays last season, the most among the Buckeyes' returning linemen.

"He's learning how to do some other things, like moving down inside at times and things that aren't as natural to him," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell told colleague Brian Bennett. "He's very athletic out on the edge, and he's getting a lot better in different situations and things we've asked him to do, like being one of the inside fit guys."

Spence and Washington headlined Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State, which included arguably the best defensive line haul in the country. They live in the same dorm as freshmen and have talked about getting a place together off campus for the next academic year. Washington said Spence will "probably be one of my best friends for life."

The two typically are mentioned in the same sentence when it comes to football, and they form the foundation for Ohio State's future along the D-line.

"Noah brings the athleticism and the speed," Washington said, "and I can bring the speed and the power. But Noah also has power. Noah's a lot stronger than he looks. We bring the same things."

Spence has drawn rave reviews for his play throughout the spring, and Washington seems to be making strides in recent weeks. Meyer, who describes Washington as a "wonderful person," said the lineman always grades high in terms of attitude and effort but lacked a chip on his shoulder.

"He's not an angry player," Meyer said. "The position he plays, you have to play angry. You can see that starting to come out these last three or four practices."

Ohio State's spring game has added meaning for Washington, who returns to his hometown and will take the field Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. The defensive line will be in the spotlight as many are interested to see how the replacement project is going.

"We get reminded about it every day," Washington said. "We just go out there and try to show the guys returning on defense, Coach Meyer, Coach Fickell, that we can fill the shoes and be just like they were."

Washington already has a believer on the offense in a guy he often faces in practice.

"He's obviously got all the physical tools, he's blessed," Buckeyes left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "I see him coming along every day. That chip on his shoulder, people may have not have seen that before, but I can definitely see that more as spring ball goes.

"If he keeps going in the right direction, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in this conference."

Charting next 'LEO' at Ohio State 

April, 10, 2013
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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.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Several factors usually get mentioned first as reasons for Ohio State's 12-0 season in 2012. Braxton Miller's heroics. Carlos Hyde's emergence. The play of the defense down the stretch, led by John Simon and Ryan Shazier.

But one factor probably doesn't get mentioned enough: the performance of the team's offensive line. A major question mark going into last season, the line shaped up as one of the best in the Big Ten last year under the tutelage of Ed Warriner. And with most of the group back and some better depth, the unit provides a strong reason to believe in the Buckeyes again in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsLeft tackle Jack Mewhort, an all-Big Ten-level talent in 2012, could be the Buckeyes' next great leader.
Warriner turned in one of the better coaching jobs in the league last year, rounding into shape a crew that was previously undistinguished and underwhelming. He turned Reid Fragel, a former tight end, into a standout right tackle who should get drafted later this month. Corey Linsley went from playing guard to one of the conference's top centers, while Jack Mewhort developed into a top-flight left tackle. One of the indelible images of the Buckeyes' season was the line pushing around Michigan State's terrific defense to grind out the victory in East Lansing.

About the only thing Warriner had to worry about last season was health, as there was no experience and precious little depth behind the starters. He doesn't have the same worries this spring.

"It's a nice feeling to know you probably have a backup tackle and a backup guard," he told ESPN.com.

Four starters are back, so the real battle this spring is to replace Fragel at that right-tackle spot. Right now, sophomores Chase Farris and Taylor Decker are splitting a lot of first-team reps there, with Darryl Baldwin also in the mix.

"Those two guys have a lot of ability," Warriner said. "The more comfortable they get and the more confidence they get, one of them could take off -- or maybe both will and we'll play by committee. But they have high-level talent and all the traits of really good linemen."

Head coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that redshirt freshman Pat Elflein has been one of the surprises of the spring, and he could add depth at guard or tackle. Warriner also said Jacoby Boren is making strides at center. While the team suffered a setback when reserve Antonio Underwood tore his anterior cruciate ligament late last week, the Buckeyes should still be able to rotate more guys on the offensive line this fall.

"If the next man in can play a certain amount but the level doesn't drop off enough to hurt our team, we might do that just to keep the unit fresh and hopefully be smart throughout the season," Warriner said.

But Ohio State will want its veterans on the field as much as possible. Mewhort, whom ESPN.com voted as a first-team All-Big Ten performer, has been hailed as one of the team's best leaders and anointed by Meyer as a possible replacement for Simon in that regard.

"He's what you want in terms of an attitude, of work ethic, of being a competitor," Warriner said. "When you're a first-year starter at a new position with a new coaching staff, sometimes you just worry about your own business, and that was him to some degree last year. But now, he's taking kind of a bigger role with his leadership on offense and even the team as a whole."

Warriner said guards Andrew Norwell, a first All-Big Ten team honoree by the media last season, and Marcus Hall have made maybe the biggest improvements of anyone on the line this offseason. Along with Linsley, whom Warriner said has "elite-level strength," the Buckeyes have the potential to field four all-conference type linemen.

"We think we possibly could, if they play up to their ability level," he said. "The good thing about the group is, they don't really care about that. If we won the Big Ten and none of them made all-conference, they wouldn't care a bit. That's the kind of unselfish players they are."

Warriner said he has challenged the group to help lead a top-five national offensive attack this season. Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring last year (37.2 points per game) and finished second in rushing yards per game (242.3). The offensive line led the way, though players like Miller and Hall sure helped.

"We know the quality of our skill guys can erase some things and create some big plays," Warriner said. "If you block it for six, you might get 16. At some places, if you block it for six, that's what they'll get -- six yards."

Everything works in concert. But don't forget the Buckeyes' offensive line when talking about reasons for the team's success.

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