Thomas Bradley / Campus editor
Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel is taking time this spring to figure out which players might be able to work their way onto the field this fall.
Vrabel is in his first year working with the OSU defensive line after coaching linebackers under previous coach Luke Fickell in 2011. Vrabel said he wants guys who have that competitive fire.
“A sign of a true, great player is that they’re going to compete,” Vrabel said. “And they may not win, but they’re willing to compete and we’ve got guys who are willing to compete and fight.”
Depth is a bit of a concern for the Buckeyes at the defensive line position this spring. There are some veteran players with significant playing experience, but beyond that, Vrabel said he is unsure how many guys will be a part of the rotation for this year’s team.
“If there’s 10 guys we feel comfortable putting in the game, we’ll play 10 guys. If it’s six, we’ll play six,” he said. “Certainly, you’d like to have two-deep. Right now, I don’t think we’re quite there, but that’s what spring’s for.”
The good news for Vrabel is the players he has returning along the defensive line have had success in previous seasons.
Junior Johnathan Hankins, redshirt senior Garrett Goebel and senior John Simon made significant contributions on the line in recent years and look to lead a young group at that position.
Goebel said he’s using his experience to help some of the younger players adjust.
“This is going to be my fifth year, so it’s definitely nice that I understand the defense,” Goebel said. “Now, I just go out there and just play and try to help other guys learn.”
The defense will rely on the front line to set the tone in each game and Simon said he understands that he plays an integral part in that. The senior from Youngstown, Ohio, recorded 53 tackles in 2011, including 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He said he has taken on a more vocal role this spring.
“I’m really just trying to step up that leadership role this year,” Simon said. “I think we’re doing a nice job and we’re really getting after the younger guys and it’s going well.”
Simon spoke in regard to Vrabel and what it’s like to be coached by the former Buckeye and three-time Super Bowl champion. He said it’s Vrabel’s experience and knowledge of the game that is most valuable to his players.
“Just how he uses his hands and what he thinks before the play even starts is something that I’ve really found intriguing,” Simon said. “We’re just trying to take in every detail he gives us.”
Vrabel also spoke fondly of the Buckeye defensive star and acknowledged that guys like Simon are exceedingly hard to find. He said the leadership and experience Simon brings to the defense is “invaluable” and that he’s a good player to coach.
“He’s a special guy,” Vrabel said. “He’s a guy I enjoy being around and he’s great for our team.”
Moving forward, Vrabel said he wants his guys to continue to improve this spring and make strides before workouts begin this summer. He discussed three things he wants to see from his guys that he said will make the 2012 Buckeyes successful.
“We’re gonna play physical, we’re gonna play square and we’re gonna play with violent hands,” Vrabel said. “If we do those three things, we’ll be graded positively and if we’re able to go from point A to point B as fast as we can and compete for the length of a play, … we’re gonna have a good D-line.”