March 27, 2011

Pre-Spring Player Outlook: Defensive Tackle

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The Ohio State football team hasn't been in a state of this much uncertainty since the Jim Tressel era began a decade ago. 

Not only will the Buckeyes miss their head coach and four of its most key offensive players for the first five games of next season, Tressel's status with the team is currently under review by the NCAA for recently discovered rules violations.

Spring football is less than two weeks away, and while the Buckeyes may seem in a state of flux, the three-week period of practices is key to identifying players that could be ready to make a difference next season.

We begin thinking about personnel on the football team as those practices draw closer by analyzing what we know and what we may expect out of the players in spring football. Next up are the defensive tackles. 

  • John Simon - With the losses of big playmakers on the defensive line in Dexter Larimore and Cameron Heyward, Simon is going to be the guy Ohio State turns to as the replacement. Though he did spend some time at defensive end last year, Simon is the man to hold down the interior defensive line this spring and into the fall. 

    What we are going to find out: Simon had a really productive season as a freshman in 2009 and came onto the scene as a consistent playmaker last year. The real question is how much Ohio State can count on him to be the guy for Ohio State's defensive front. Gone are the big leaders of last year's defense. Will Simon take on that role this season and elevate his game with the bull's eye on his back? We'll see soon. 

  • Johnathan Hankins - Perhaps the biggest surprise out of last year's recruiting class was the production out of Hankins as a freshman. Coming into Ohio State just a shade below 330 pounds, Hankins didn't seem to be in the proper shape to contribute early. However, Hankins lost weight and re-gained some of his size in muscle and became a very productive interior defensive lineman in certain situations.

    What we will find out: With a massive body and immense strength, Hankins has the perfect combination for any interior defensive lineman. The question, however, is if he will be able to sustain it for longer periods of time this year. He will most certainly see his role on this team increase substantially, but playing one or two plays and then being taken out isn't going to cut it. He was banged up for Ohio State's 6 a.m. workouts open to the media in the recent weeks so we didn't get a good glimpse of how in-shape he is. This spring we will get an idea of how ready he is to be an ordinary fixture in the lineup and what his role on the team will be. 

  • Garrett Goebel - It wouldn't be fair to say that we don't know much about Goebel, but we don't know a lot. Though the junior guard has looked really good at times, particularly in scrimmages and in open practices, he hasn't quite taken that next step toward become a permanent fixture in the rotation. Given the way defensive coordinator Jim Heacock likes to keep guys fresh, this could be Goebel's year to make a difference. 

    What we will find out: It's simple: if he's ready to be someone Ohio State counts on. He will likely find himself in a battle this spring with other back ups to fight to get into the tackle rotation. In the limited amount of action we've seen out of the junior defensive tackle, he should be able to give the competition a run for its money. 

  • Adam Bellamy - Meet Goebel's competition. Last season Bellamy proved to the coaching staff that he can be trusted on the field, but getting on to it this year is going to be a battle. Bellamy received some playing time in 2010 so he certainly is an option for the Buckeyes, but how deep will Heacock's rotation go with the defensive tackles? Bellamy is looking to take that next step and become a part of it. 

    What we will find out: Every rep this spring is going to matter. Goebel is fighting just as hard as Bellamy to get on the field for meaningful plays all year. Though it is possible both will be a part of a 4-man rotation with the tackles, there's going to be a position battle. Bellamy last year showed some quickness off the ball, which led to making plays, but his strength was a concern. His improvement during the off-season will be noticed the second they put on the pads this spring. 

  • Joel Hale - Hale wasn't rated as high as he probably would have liked in the rankings, but Ohio State doesn't look at those when handing out offers. Hale, a true freshman that has enrolled at Ohio State early, looks to follow in the footsteps of Simon. How so? Simon was also a three-star recruit and came in his freshman season and made an instant impact. We all know how that has worked out for Simon thus far in his career. 

    What we will find out: Hale seemed like a probable redshirt in his freshman season, but the importance of enrolling early and being a part of spring football cannot go unnoticed. In the 6 a.m. workouts Hale also showed immense strength in the "band drill." When connected to Simon with rubber athletic bands and put into a circle, Hale out-muscled Simon on multiple occasions. Though that is far from what will determine playing time, maybe the Buckeyes found another under-rated gem. In the spring, we'll see how far Hale's role will extend. 

  • Evan Blankenship - Last fall Blankenship was moved over to defensive tackle from the offensive line and it seems as if that has been a permanent move. Blankenship, however, has yet to see any time in meaningful situations and it isn't clear whether or not he's ready to take that jump and compete for a reserve role. 

    What we will find out: Given Blankenship's move to defense, it is clear Ohio State wasn't exactly sure where he fit within the mold of this team. As of now, he shouldn't be regarded as anything more than a scout player. However, as Larimore moves on there are spots to be filled. Will he compete for a reserve role this spring? We'll find out. 

    Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for He can be reached at


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