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2014 to 2016 - A Comparison of Two Similar Buckeye Teams: Defensive Line
By Patrick Murphy
It will be a new-look defensive line as players like Sam Hubbard replace the greats like Joey Bosa
Photos by Dan Harker and Jim Davidson
 

COLUMBUS – The 2014 Ohio State football season will always be remembered for how it ended – the Buckeyes won the first College Football Playoff national championship – but nothing about that season came easy.

It was a group of young Buckeyes that head coach Urban Meyer called, “a team of development,” that grew up in front of fans’ eyes.

In his very early evaluations of the 2016 team, Meyer sees something similar.

I think I compare it, as I discussed with our staff, very similar to the 2014 team,” the coach said of his next Scarlet and Gray team.

“It’s a hunger. It’s going to be back to a 2014 team. A hungry, nasty, mean team.”

While there is a lot of talent to be replaced, there are also plenty of players with potential looking to prove their value, just like in 2014.

Due to Meyer’s comparison, we will take a look back to 2014 and find the similarities and differences between the two teams position by position.

Defensive Line

Similarities: The defensive line is the position group with the least similarities between 2014 and 2016.

When Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State following the 2011 season, he quickly went to work on the 2012 recruiting class and the defensive line was a focus. That class included five defensive linemen, four defensive ends and one defensive tackle.

This group set the stage for defensive line success over the next few years and the standard for what defensive line classes should be for the Buckeyes under Meyer.

The coaching staff believed the team would have its starting defensive line returning in 2014. After breaking onto the scene in 2013, sophomore Joey Bosa returned at defensive end along with junior Noah Spence.  Senior Michael Bennett was at defensive tackle while former defensive end, junior Adolphus Washington, spent the offseason completing his transitioning to nose tackle.

It appeared that the only starter that would have to be replaced on the line was Joel Hale, who shared time with Washington and moved from nose tackle to the offensive line, but the staff knew they would be without Spence for the first two games of the season.

Spence was suspended for those first two games due to a positive test for ecstasy before the Orange Bowl the previous year. As it turned out, Spence was suspended indefinitely by the Big Ten for another failed test and would eventually leave Ohio State.

The suspension and ultimate departure of Spence meant that senior Steve Miller would step up as a starter. While it took Miller time to settle in, he eventually became a solid player for OSU including a pick six in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama.

Differences: While there was a lot of experienced talent returning in 2014, the Buckeyes don’t have that same luxury heading into 2016. The Ohio State coaching staff knew the team would have to replace Hale in the middle and Spence to start the season, but this offseason, the Buckeyes have just one returning starter in defensive end Tyquan Lewis.

Tyquan Lewis is the lone returning starter from 2015
Photo by Jim Davidson
 

In his first year as a starter, Lewis took advantage of the double and triple teams Joey Bosa faced on the opposite side of the line to lead the Scarlet and Gray with eight sacks as well as 14 tackles for a loss (second on the team) and one forced fumble.

Along with Lewis will be young players, but they won’t be totally inexperienced due to various situations in 2015.

At defensive end redshirt sophomore Sam Hubbard and junior Jalyn Holmes split time filling in for the suspended Bosa in OSU’s opening game of the season at Virginia Tech and both looked good. Hubbard, a former linebacker and safety, saw plenty of snaps throughout the year and finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks while Holmes also saw action as part of the rotation throughout the year.

As nose tackle Tommy Schutt missed plenty of time throughout the season with injuries, redshirt junior Michael Hill saw enough time to prove he can play the position. He saw snaps in all 13 games and finished the year with 12 tackles and two quarterback hurries.

Redshirt junior Donovan Munger also played quite a bit on the interior of the line, especially late in the season with the suspension of Adolphus Washington for the Fiesta Bowl. He is the likely starter at defensive tackle heading into the spring.

2016 Outlook: The task will be tough for defensive line coach Larry Johnson, but due to the recruiting at Ohio State, the talent is certainly on hand.

After Joey Bosa was the focus of opponents’ offensive lines in 2015, this season will see a more balanced attack across the line. Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard are names Buckeye fans already know, but the others have something to prove as well.

Redshirt sophomore Darius Slade, redshirt freshman Dre’Mont Jones, redshirt junior Tracy Sprinkle, and redshirt freshman Rob Landers will all be names fans will likely hear mentioned throughout the spring and Fall Camp as part of the line’s talent.

Also, don’t forget about Joey’s younger brother Nick, who will begin his first season with the Buckeyes in 2016. The younger Bosa has huge expectations on his shoulders, but is coming off a torn ACL that prematurely ended his senior year. Like his brother, Bosa probably won’t be around his full four years, so expect the OSU staff to use the five-star prospect as soon as he’s ready.

Thanks to Johnson’s rotation and starters missing time last year, this is a good situation for the Buckeyes despite replacing three starters on the defensive line.

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