Ohio State came into spring football practice knowing there were quite a few holes to fill, mostly on defense with the entire line plus two linebackers all gone.
The offense fared better than the defense in returning starters with nine, while only four are back on the prevent unit.
But head coach Urban Meyer saw that problem coming and in his very first Buckeye recruiting class last year, landed a whole horde of defensive linemen.
A couple of key signees in that group, namely sophomores-to-be Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, have emerged - both in spring drills and especially in last Saturday's Scarlet and Gray game in Cincinnati - as the probable starters at the defensive end spots this fall.
But wait, you say - and even me in the past too - that spring games are just glorified scrimmages, and controlled ones at that.
Nevertheless, Spence and Washington looked like the heirs apparent at ends after a pair of scintillating performances last Saturday. Plus, the fact that when it was first-team O versus first-team D, it was the duo that was doing their thing - using their speed coming off the edge with a quick first step to exert pressure on the quarterback - against an experienced OSU offensive line.
And speaking of experience, the 6-3, 247-pound Spence and the 6-3, 295-pound Washington are not just neophytes who were thrown into the mix this spring. Both got invaluable playing time as mere freshmen last fall, backing up the all-departed starting front four of John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel.
Spence was in for 237 plays last year to lead all returnees on the D-line with Washington next with 156 plays. Spence had 12 tackles while Washington ranked third on the team with three sacks.
They seem to have the three S's necessary for good pass-rushing ends - namely speed, size and strength.
The Buckeye coaching staff really likes the potential they see in both Washington, who defensive line coach Mike Vrabel thinks is best suited to play on the edge, and Spence, who makes offensive line coach Ed Warinner ''glad he's on our team.''
"His speed off the edge is amazing,'' added Warinner of Spence. ''He will make (our offensive linemen) better because he will give us something every day to work on. It's hard to coach speed. He can change the game on the edge and that's good for us. He can be an impact player for us.''
As evidenced last Saturday as the two defenses combined for 11 sacks, led by four from Washington and three from Spence.
"Adolphus Washington has really raised his level of play," said Meyer. "He's a legitimate player. You saw him today just have his way with our offensive line at times."
Safety C.J. Barnett believes the Buckeyes' all-new defensive line could be the key to the team's entire season. "The line is the most important part of the defense," said. Barnett. "We're going to go as far as they take us."
Contact Steve Hemmelgarn at email@example.com