The Ohio State Buckeyes face a major rebuild of their offensive line following their perfect season in 2012. Following the graduation of all-Big Ten first-team and 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon and Nathan Williams at defensive end and Garrett Goebel at defensive tackle, along with the early departure of Johnathan Hankins to the NFL, Ohio State will have to find four new starters along their defensive line. Can junior defensive tackle Joel Hale step up and lead the young and inexperienced unit in 2013?
If history is any indication, it will a tall order. Hale is entering his third season on the field for Ohio State, but has recorded just 10 total tackles in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Last year, he made six tackles in seven games with a quarterback hurry to his credit. Despite the lack of production, defensive line coach Mike Vrabel believes Hale is the man to lead this unit.
“Joel is a veteran for us. He’s been here two years, and this is going to be Joel’s third season. But he’s a veteran for us, that’s how young we are. Joel kind of keeps everybody together, and keeps them on the right path … he’s an important cog to what we’re doing.
Hale, to his credit, says he’s ready to step up and be a leader. He’ll have a trio of juniors beside him in J.T. Moore, Michael Bennett and Steve Miller to share the leadership duties with as the oldest member of the defensive line.
The most experienced returner on the defensive line is Moore who has five career starts, though he saw his playing time dip dramatically in 2012. After appearing in all 13 games of his redshirt freshman season, he saw action in only four games as a sophomore and made just one tackle.
Bennett, meanwhile, is the most accomplished returning defensive lineman from a statistical standpoint. The junior has 28 career tackles including six tackles for loss and four sacks. He saw his 2012 season cut short, however, due to injuries as he missed five games during his sophomore season. If he can remain healthy, he will be counted on to provide serious production in 2013.
Also in the mix for the four open spots are sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington at end and Tommy Schutt at tackle. They figure to see a prominent role after responding well to increased playing time during their freshman seasons. Spence is the leading returning tackler on the defensive line after notching 12 tackles last season and Washington proved to be a versatile weapon on the line, playing both inside and outside last season.
It is a major hole that could trip the Buckeyes’ up on their way to another perfect season, but the defensive line is determined to not let the loss of all four starters deter them. Will their inexperience as a unit doom the team’s chances next season?