Big Ten: Tyquan Lewis

Jamal Marcus was staring at a great opportunity at Ohio State.

With defensive end Noah Spence suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season, Marcus was the favorite to start in Spence's place to begin the year. He had ably filled in for Spence in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, registering six tackles and looking like a key piece of the future.

But the junior is now a former Buckeye, as he is transferring. An Ohio State spokesman confirmed the move, which was reported by Eleven Warriors on Monday, saying it was a mutual decision.

Marcus didn't practice the last couple of weeks of spring because of what coach Urban Meyer termed an academic issue. Now, what should be one of the nation's best defensive lines and arguably the top unit in the Big Ten could be scrambling a bit in Weeks 1 and 2.

Senior Steve Miller and redshirt freshman Tyquan Lewis are the likely top candidates to start at defensive end, along with Joey Bosa. Ohio State will be thin at the position against Navy and Virginia Tech. Incoming recruits Jalyn Holmes, Darius Slade and Dylan Thompson might have to get ready early.

If the Buckeyes can weather the storm -- especially against Navy's cut blocks -- then they should be fine when Spence returns. But figuring out the defensive end rotation now becomes a major priority this summer.
Now that spring practice has played out in the Big Ten, we thought we'd try to identify the best overall position group on any team in the league.

Had we done this exercise last year, we might have chosen the Michigan State secondary, a.k.a., the "No-Fly Zone." Ohio State's offensive line would have ranked highly as well, along with Wisconsin's running backs, Iowa's linebackers and Indiana's receivers.

This season, there is once again some stiff competition. The Badgers' running backs are still impressive, with Corey Clement joining the cast in a bigger role with Melvin Gordon. Nebraska's backs are also strong, with Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross. You could make a case for Michigan State's defensive line, even with two new starting tackles, simply because of the sheer talent of Shilique Calhoun and underappreciated senior Marcus Rush. Other units that could be very strong include Iowa's offensive line, Michigan's linebackers and Maryland's receivers, if healthy.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDefensive end Joey Bosa made an instant impact as a freshman and helped transform Ohio State's defensive line into the Big Ten's most formidable unit.
But my vote for the Big Ten's best position group goes to Ohio State's defensive line.

It's not a crew that is swimming with All-Americans and award winners, though defensive end Noah Spence and defensive tackle Michael Bennett both made second-team All-Big Ten last season. Still, for sheer talent and depth, it's hard to beat the Buckeyes' defensive front four.

Start with Joey Bosa, who had an outstanding true freshman season with 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2013. He should be even better with a year of experience under his belt, and he's one of the top candidates for Big Ten defensive player-of-the-year honors as a sophomore. At the other end spot is Spence, who finished second in the Big Ten in sacks with eight last fall. The junior will have to serve two more games of his three-game suspension to start the season, but Jamal Marcus showed he can fill in adequately after he had six tackles in a strong Orange Bowl performance.

The Buckeyes aren't huge in the middle with Bennett and Adolphus Washington, who both are listed at 288 pounds. But both are very athletic. Bennett started his career at defensive end, and Washington looked like possibly the best player on the line last spring until he moved back and forth in the fall. The junior has finally found a home at tackle.

"I've picked up about 40 pounds since the end of my senior year of high school," he told ESPN.com. "The defensive end spot became so much harder for me to move and carry all that weight. But I've still got my speed in closer quarters with bigger guys who are much slower than me, so I've still got my advantage."

Washington said that "basically, it's all defensive ends on the field," when Ohio State starts its preferred four. That athleticism can do some major damage.

"We've got guys that can pass rush from any spot on the field, and that’s dangerous," Bennett said. "Who are you going to double team? We all have the mindset that if you’re single-blocked, you should get to the quarterback, and we all have the ability to do that."

New position coach Larry Johnson took over from Mike Vrabel this winter, and the former longtime Penn State assistant wants to rotate guys in much more than his predecessor did. The Buckeyes should have the luxury of depth, especially when Spence returns. Tommy Schutt and the 340-pound Chris Carter can help plug the middle, while Steve Miller, Tracy Sprinkle, Michael Hill, Tyquan Lewis and Purdue transfer Rashad Frazier should all contribute in some form. Jalyn Holmes and Dylan Thompson are 2014 signees who could add even more reinforcements.

Ohio State led the Big Ten in sacks last season and finished third in rush defense despite some soft spots at linebacker. The defensive line returns every player of significance from 2013 and has a lot of young players with room to improve.

"I didn't know we could grow as much as we have this spring," Bennett said.

That's a sobering thought for everyone else, and it's another reason why the Buckeyes' defensive line should be the best position group in the Big Ten.
Ohio State sophomore linebacker Luke Roberts is taking an unusual path: He's transferring to Harvard, according to the Columbus Dispatch. He plans to play for the Crimson and will be immediately eligible for the FCS program.

"Harvard just seems to be a good fit for me,” Roberts told the Dispatch. “Even though the football obviously is different from the Big Ten, and though I had opportunities to transfer to another BCS school, I just decided that wasn’t what I looking for this time around. I thought pursuing a little more academic environment would be more suited to me, just the kind of person I am and the teammates I would have, and the area I would be in.”

Roberts was projected as a backup this season, and his playing time likely would have been limited. But his departure thins an already inexperienced position group, which lost another member of the 2012 recruiting class following spring practice when David Perkins transferred to Illinois State.

The Buckeyes are bringing in three highly regarded prospects from the 2013 class in Mike Mitchell, Trey Johnson and Tyquan Lewis, and their path to potentially cracking the two deep as freshmen has grown clearer.

Roberts was a three-star recruit who also had offers from Arizona, Indiana, Cincinnati and Purdue, according to ESPN.com. His Big Ten days are over, but anyone who has the grades to transfer into Harvard will probably end up doing just fine.
Mike Vrabel enters only his third season in coaching following a 14-year NFL playing career, but the Ohio State assistant might never again face a challenge like the one that sits before him.

It's rare when a defensive line coach steps on the practice field and doesn't see a single starter from the previous season. How rare? According to Ohio State's athletics communications staff, the Buckeyes haven't had a complete overhaul of their starting defensive line since the 1985 season, when all three top spots had to be filled. Although Ohio State ended up starting four new linemen in 1998, it had a returning starter from 1997 (end Matt LaVrar) on the roster.

All four starters from the 2012 team -- ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, and tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel -- have moved on. The effort to replace them is arguably Ohio State's top offseason story line, as the Buckeyes could be a defensive line away from contending for a national title in 2013.

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesOhio State is counting on players like Noah Spence to deliver for an inexperienced defensive line.
"We're not going to claim to be experienced," Vrabel told ESPN.com on Thursday, "but we're going to go out and continue to improve. They work, and they're committed to being great."

Vrabel is stressing three areas for the linemen this spring -- attitude, effort and toughness. If all three are achieved, Vrabel thinks the players can "let their God-given ability to take over."

The Buckeyes' linemen boast plenty of ability. Ohio State had arguably the nation's top defensive-line haul in the 2012 recruiting class, signing four ESPN 150 defensive linemen, three of whom -- Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt -- saw the field as true freshmen. More help is on the way from the 2013 class with standouts like tackle Joey Bosa, an ESPN 150 selection. Two incoming line recruits, Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle, enrolled early and are participating in spring ball.

But the group has only nine combined career starts, five from junior end J.T. Moore. Its career tackles leader, junior tackle Michael Bennett, has a whopping 28 stops in 21 games.

"The guys we've got have a little bit of experience with Adolphus and Noah and Tommy," Vrabel said. "Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, Steve Miller, those guys have been here, contributing and giving us some leadership. And Tracy and Tyquan are just trying to figure their way through this thing.

"We're learning every day."

Although Ohio State's defensive line undoubtedly will be younger, Vrabel also thinks it will be faster with players like Spence and Washington, who finished third on the team with three sacks in 2012. Again, talent isn't a problem, but the line needs leadership after losing two-time captain John Simon.

Head coach Urban Meyer challenged several of the older linemen at the start of the spring, saying, "Steve Miller's been here for a while. It's time to go play. Chris Carter, how long has he been here? At some point you can't redshirt anymore." At the very least, Ohio State needs the veterans to fill out the line rotation.

Ideally, they can take the reins.

"No one's going to replace what John Simon provided for this program," Vrabel said. "We can only hope that we find guys who are willing to lead, be the same person every day, be competitive, play with some toughness and play with some effort. We'll have guys step up."

Vrabel should get an accurate gauge on his group this spring because of the men they'll be lining up against. What the Buckeyes lack in defensive-line experience, they make up for on their offensive line, which returns four starters with 81 combined career starts.

"If we can compete against them," Vrabel said, "we feel like we're going to be OK."

Spence evidently has been competing well, impressing Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner with his edge-rushing speed.

Vrabel's return to his alma mater in 2011 generated tremendous excitement, and he made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail. But his coaching skills will be under the microscope as he works with a group that, for now, is Ohio State's biggest question mark.

"I'm a young coach, I'm new to this, so every day is a challenge," he said. "I enjoy it, I embrace the challenge and try to do my best."

Big Ten lunch links

September, 20, 2012
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Looks like Michigan has fired the first shot in Saturday's rivalry game with Notre Dame.

BuckeyeNation links: Friday Night Lights

July, 28, 2012
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BuckeyeNation has more coverage of Ohio State:

It was Urban Meyer's first Friday Night Lights camp at OSU, and the stars were out.

Brad Bournival writes Insider: There was one player commitment, as Indianapolis offensive lineman Tim Gardner pounced on an OSU offer.

Bournival writes Insider: Four top quarterbacks in the class of 2014, among others, took aim at getting an offer.

Jared Shanker writes Insider: Quarterback Caleb Henderson made the trip from Virginia and was satisfied with his performance.

Bournival writes Insider: A look at the top performers and the best in show Insider at the 'Shoe.

Shanker writes Insider: Wide receiver Shelton Gibson names Ohio State as his favorite.

Bournival writes Insider: Defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who has an OSU offer, brought along his mother on the visit.

Bournival writes Insider: Offensive lineman Donovan Munger is still mulling an offer.

Bournival writes Insider: The top 2014 linebackers at the camp became fast friends.

Bournival writes Insider: In this notebook, a Michigan prospect "chills" at camp, and a sleeper reveals himself.

BuckeyeNation Links: Late bloomer

July, 17, 2012
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BuckeyeNation has more coverage of Ohio State:

Brad Bournival writes Insider: 2013 safety recruit Jayme Thompson credits jiu jitsu for his development into an elite prospect.

Bournival writes Insider: 2013 linebacker/defensive end Tyquan Lewis earned a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes.

Austin Ward writes: Corey "Philly" Brown is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list.

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