- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On paper, the matchup hardly seems even.
Lining up on one side is a fifth-year senior, a relentless competitor expected to soon be appointed captain coming off 25 consecutive starts and a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Across from him is a sophomore who has never started a game, has just 12 tackles to his credit and is trying to fill one of the biggest voids on the Ohio State roster.
But when the drills start and the resumes are thrown out, the matchup looks unfair yet again -- but now the veteran looks like the underdog.
The battles have played out all spring, with left tackle Jack Mewhort and defensive lineman Noah Spence often providing the marquee showdown in full-contact work in the trenches. And while Mewhort has done nothing to diminish his reputation as one of the best blockers in the conference, he and the rest of the Buckeyes up front have certainly had their hands full with Spence emerging as a dynamic force at end.
"I'm glad he's on our team, that's all I can say," offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. "He can be an impact player for us."
The damage so far has been limited to his teammates during spring workouts. Leading up to the conclusion of camp with Saturday's exhibition in Cincinnati, perhaps nobody has inflicted more damage than Spence.
He's made his mark in almost every way possible, showing off a stronger physique after tacking on about 10 pounds of muscle since the end of last season, impressing position coach Mike Vrabel with his willingness to learn new techniques and wreaking havoc during scrimmage periods.
But it's been when the spotlight has been focused on just Spence and Mewhort that the pass rusher has most looked like the heir apparent to John Simon. And while there's still plenty of work to be done before comparisons between a second-year player and the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year can really be made, Spence certainly appears to be headed down the correct path.
"I'm still learning," Spence said. "I don't always know what I'm doing, probably half the time I don't know. But I'm going to give 100 percent effort on every play.
"I pretty much try to go hard every play like it's my last play. That's probably the biggest thing I have going for me. I'm just an effort guy. I'm not going to give up on any play, so if I have to chase it down from the back, I'm not going to give up on any play. I'm not going to give up on a one-on-one or anything."
Spence is winning more than his share of them during camp, and that tireless motor complements his freakish athleticism quite nicely as the Buckeyes try to rebuild their line with Spence as a cornerstone.
Another sophomore is providing a bookend, with Adolphus Washington making some of the same strides heading into his second year with the program, and a third has made a push for playing time on the interior as Tommy Schutt tries to build on his limited experience last fall.
The Buckeyes will need all of them to fill larger roles as they try to replace all four starters from a group that contributed to a perfect season. And considering that they're currently measuring themselves against an offensive line that is returning almost completely intact from a year ago, some of those individual victories for Spence and his classmates might actually suggest they're a bit ahead of schedule.
"His speed off the edge is amazing," Warinner said of Spence. "He'll make us better because he gives us something every day to work on, which is hard to coach and recruit speed.
"He can change the game on the edge, so that's going to be good for us."
Spence is already changing a few practices, and that could prove to be plenty useful for the Buckeyes as well.
14mEthan Sherwood Strauss