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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It's not a coincidence that Urban Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State contained four defensive linemen. And it's no less surprising that his second one is currently slated to bring six more to Columbus.
Just looking at the eligibility of the Buckeyes playing on the line in 2012, the following season figured to be a transition season at that spot due to the losses of outgoing senior starters John Simon, Garrett Goebel, and Nathan Williams. The void for OSU upfront in 2013 only grew- by approximately 322 pounds- on Monday, when Johnathan Hankins announced that he would be foregoing his senior season in order to enter the NFL Draft.
The loss of Hankins, a first team All-Big Ten selection and second team Associated Press All-American, wasn't completely unexpected given that the junior defensive tackle has projected to be a first round pick since a breakout sophomore season in 2011. Nevertheless, his departure leaves the Ohio State coaching staff searching for players to fill the spot that he's leaving on his way to the pros.
The first candidate who will likely get a shot at replacing the 55 tackles and countless double teams that Hankins provided in 2012 is his understudy for the year, Adolphus Washington.
A defensive end in high school, Washington gained 60 pounds after arriving at Ohio State for his freshman season, a move which allowed the 6-foot-3, 289-pounder to move inside and serve as Hankins' backup at defensive tackle. While still possessing the ability to play on either the inside or outside of the line, Washington shined in mostly spot duty in 2012, recording nine tackles, including 3.5 for a loss, and three sacks.
"What allows me to play outside is my speed. For me to be 289, I have a lot of speed and I have a lot of power. So you combine those two, you can be very deadly coming from the outside," Washington said. "Playing inside, my power helps me a lot and my length affects me, but it kind of helps me at the same time. I just got to keep working on the inside thing and I think one day I can dominate like Johnathan Hankins."
One thing that may have given Washington an edge and a fast track to a starting spot is that not only did he backup Hankins, but he was mentored by him as well, after being assigned the future first round pick as his 'big brother' mentor upon arriving in Columbus.
"He's teaching me all the things that I need to do," Washington said of his relationship with Hankins before the start of the season. "Telling me how to defeat double teams and just how to get my hand placement and things like that, so he helps me out a lot."
Another player who figures to have a shot at starting, and will at the very least see a considerable increase in playing time, is Washington's classmate Tommy Schutt. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound sophomore-to-be could find a more natural spot filling Goebel's vacancy at nose guard, but showed that he could be more than just a space-eater in limited time as a freshman, recording four tackles and one quarterback hurry in 10 games in 2012.
Asked about the potential of Washington, Schutt, and defensive end Noah Spence following the Buckeyes' win over Michigan on Nov. 24, Meyer beamed about the freshman trio, all of whom could find themselves starting in 2013.
"Sometimes you recruit guys that are overrated. The names you just mentioned are not overrated. They're going to be great players here," Meyer said. "They're going to be great players here and I appreciate the effort. On top of it, wonderful people."
Meyer will be hopeful that his defensive line commits for his 2013 class will follow the path of their predecessors, particularly on the inside, where Michael Hill, Donovan Munger, and Billy Price could all see playing time as true freshmen.
At 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, Hill is the most likely to get a shot at replacing Hankins next season. The No. 10-ranked defensive tackle in the 2013 class, Hill is a four star prospect and the top rated player in the state of South Carolina.
Other wildcards in filling the sizable void that Hankins will be leaving in Columbus are juniors-to-be Michael Bennett and Joel Hale. Dealing with injuries throughout his sophomore season, Bennett recorded 11 tackles and one sack in eight games, but at 277 pounds, may be better suited at replacing Williams at strong-side defensive end. A 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle, Hale recorded six tackles and one quarterback hurry in seven games in 2012, and was mentioned by Meyer as a potential breakout player before the start of the season.
But regardless who winds up replacing 'Big Hank' in the OSU lineup next year- or any of its other starters- it's hard to argue that the Buckeyes' defensive line isn't heading in the right direction. As Ohio State fans know a little too well, Meyer found his success and two national championships at Florida with a dominant defensive line, and if recruiting trends are any indication, he's brought that blueprint to Columbus.
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