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2016 OSU Spring Forecast: Defensive Line
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS — Like just about every other position on this Ohio State football team, the Buckeyes are replacing most of their starters on the defensive line. Some starters will be easier to replace than others, and some — like Joey Bosa — may be impossible to replace.

However, the Buckeyes already have experience playing without Bosa. He missed last year's season opener and most of the bowl game and in his absence both Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis stepped up at defensive end. Despite the loss, the expectations are high for both Hubbard and Lewis, and the depth at defensive end should be very good this spring.

Defensive tackle is another situation entirely, however. There is experienced depth returning, but it's the production that is lacking. This will be the most action that players like Mike Hill and Donovan Munger and Tracy Sprinkle have had in their careers, so they will need to respond in a productive manner.

Depth Chart

DE - Sam Hubbard / Jalyn Holmes / Dre'Mont Jones
DT - Donovan Munger / Tracy Sprinkle / Robert Landers
NT - Michael Hill / Davon Hamilton / Josh Alabi
DE - Tyquan Lewis / Jashon Cornell / Darius Slade

Injured: DT Malik Barrow
Departed: DE Joey Bosa, DT Tommy Schutt, DT Adolphus Washington
Early Enrollees: DE Jonathon Cooper, DT Malik Barrow
Freshmen Enrolling in Summer: DE Nick Bosa

Expectation

The roster is a solid mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen, and the expectation is that each age group will help push the other. The group will be led by the lone returning starter, defensive end Tyquan Lewis. Lewis led the Buckeyes with eight sacks a season ago and will bring the proper kind of confidence to his position group.

The defensive ends should be fine and there isn't much concern there for the spring. However, there are some young players who will need to show that they can handle the opportunity. The real concern is again at defensive tackle, where Mike Hill, Donovan Munger and Tracy Sprinkle are finally getting their respective turns to lead this unit.

Given the uptick in reps, they are expected to respond well, and also be pushed by a handful of talented redshirt freshmen.

Storyline to Watch

Where do Jashon Cornell and Dre'Mont Jones end up? They both came to Ohio State as defensive ends who could grow into defensive tackles, and we'll finally get to see how that ends up throughout the spring. Where they start, however, may not be where they end up. Perhaps defensive line coach Larry Johnson will choose to employ the versatility that one or both players could provide.

We saw the success with the "Rushmen Package" last season when Joey Bosa would slide inside and they would put their four best pass rushers on the field. If Jones or Cornell could be one of those guys, then they could provide some very productive pass rushing from the defensive tackle position.

Quotable

"Obviously the big guys is sometimes the most difficult, especially the inside. To have guys that can walk in the door at 18, 19-years old, to be physically ready to do some of that stuff is difficult. I like that we got an opportunity to come in to give an opportunity to play (in the Fiesta Bowl). And there are some young guys too that maybe we don’t even know. Dre’Mont Jones, who got hurt last year, is really a year further along. So there’s plenty of them, but that’s the most difficult spot. It’s kind of like an offensive linemen. Those guys are talented enough, they’re smart enough to understand what they’re doing, but the true physicality of the game, taking that next step, to me is the most difficult thing." — Luke Fickell on the difficulty for young defensive linemen to have an impact.

Number to Know

16. That is the number of tackles the defensive tackles on the 2016 roster managed a season ago, and they came from Mike Hill (12) and Tracy Sprinkle (4).

Question Needing an Answer

What are the Buckeyes going to get from the redshirt freshmen? There are five redshirt freshmen defensive linemen taking part in spring camp as the aforementioned Dre'Mont Jones and Jashon Cornell will be joined by defensive tackles Josh Alabi, Davon Hamilton and Robert Landers.

At least three of them will need to show that they can be a positive force this spring, and the rest will need to show that they belong. There won't be enough reps for all of them, so the hungriest wolves will be the ones eating.

Best Case Scenario

The best case scenario this spring for the defensive line would involve the defensive tackles exceeding expectations. The defensive tackles may be the biggest question mark on the team, but the good news is that they know it and they can use it as fuel. Larry Johnson will have them completely confident and he will speak nothing but good things about them. If all goes as planned this spring, he'll even mean it.

Anything Else?

Don't forget about Jalyn Holmes at defensive end. Yes, everybody is excited about Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard, but Holmes provides a talented third option who can rotate in and get after the quarterback. Holmes would likely start at most Big Ten schools, and if Hubbard or Lewis start slacking a bit, he could also be starting at Ohio State.

To Answer Your Question

No, I don't expect freshman defensive end Jonathon Cooper to do much name-making this spring. There's quite a bit of depth chart for him to get through and he still needs to get stronger. He will have his moments, but if he can make it into the two-deep I would consider that a surprise.

Quarterback Forecast

Running Back Forecast

Wide Receiver/Tight End Forecast

Offensive Line Forecast

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