- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore in 2013 of an undefeated season is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.
Who's back: The Buckeyes don't exactly have a shortage of talented defenders returning to the fold up front, but it's what they're missing that will dominate the discussion heading into spring and the summer workouts. The storied career of John Simon is over after one more dynamic season on and off the field, and after battling back from injuries to contribute on the other end of the line, Nathan Williams is out of eligibility also. There's never been much doubt about how bright the futures are for Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, and in limited action as true freshmen last fall, they showed flashes what they can do. But the Buckeyes won't need potential when September rolls around -- they'll need production, and those two and rising junior Steve Miller are at the head of the line and waiting for redshirt freshman Se'Von Pittman to join them.
New faces: The possibility for early playing time was relatively easy to sell in the front seven, and with a defensive line that is facing a complete renovation, the Buckeyes were able to land signatures from six guys capable of supplying some depth or potentially fill out the rotation. More important for defensive line coach Mike Vrabel -- he's got two of those athletes already on campus, and Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle should benefit from the early transition and the head start on the practice field.
Projected spring depth chart: Spence has the prized combination of quick-striking speed and the power to win battles with blockers that allows the Buckeyes to get creative with him in the formation, and he'll likely be backed up by Miller in camp. Washington spent some time on the inside before closing the season at end and turning heads with a jaw-dropping sack and forced fumble against Michigan, making him a solid favorite at the other end spot. J.T. Moore or Pittman are in the mix for second-team work on the edge as well.
Numbers game: The heirs to the job impressed when opportunities arrived, but the veterans certainly did all they could to keep the newcomers on the sideline last season on the way to a perfect record. Despite Simon rarely leaving the field unless he simply couldn't play at all while teaming with Williams to make 95 tackles and 11 sacks, Spence and Washington still combined for 21 tackles and 4 sacks in their reserve roles -- numbers that certainly hint at bigger things to come as full-fledged regulars.
One to watch: There was no hesitation from Urban Meyer as he evaluated the class of linemen signed last year, calling it a "4-for-4" effort. Only three of them were on display, though, with Tommy Schutt earning some playing time alongside Spence and Washington -- while Se'Von Pittman battled injuries and ultimately sat out the entire year. Pittman came out of high school with nearly as much hype as a pass-rushing terror as Spence and Washington and was an ESPN150 pick just like they were, with the trio collectively ranked as the top three players in the 2012 signing class. After having to watch for a full season and with the chance to get on the field dangling in front of him, Pittman figures to be motivated to live up to those expectations and could parlay a strong showing in the spring into a prominent role in the fall.
He said it: "For me to say we have to get [to the national championship] next year, that’s like talking about we have to go fly to the moon. We’re nowhere near even having that conversation.You know what we really have to do? We have to find out who can play defensive line for us. We lost some really good players and the players we have with their current status, right now we just have to go win that first game." -- Meyer in January
2dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy