Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Playing Saturday’s Spring Game in Cincinnati might have been unfamiliar territory for many of Ohio State’s football players, but not for sophomore defensive end Adolphus Washington, a product of Cincinnati’s Taft High School.
Although the Gray team lost 31-14 to the Scarlet team during the contest at Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals, Washington had a breakout performance. As a starting defensive end on the Gray defense, with a lineup that included the majority of the Buckeyes’ first-team defensive players, Washington led all players in the game with four sacks.
“I just went out there and played football,” Washington said. “I just did what my coaches told me to do, and it just happened I got four sacks.”
Washington was not the only sophomore defensive end to get to the quarterback often Saturday. Starting opposite Washington, Noah Spence had three sacks.
As rotational players last season, Washington had three sacks over the course of the season while Spence had one. This season, though, the Buckeyes are relying upon Washington and Spence to step up as starters. OSU is replacing its entire starting defensive line from last season, including defensive ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, who combined for 11 sacks over the course of last season.
While both players surpassed their sack totals from last season and accounted for more than half of the combined total of last year’s starters, the numbers might need to be taken with a grain of salt. Both Scarlet team quarterbacks, junior Braxton Miller and redshirt senior Kenny Guiton, were wearing black no-contact jerseys in the game, meaning the opposing rushers only had to touch them to record a sack. That’s also not accounting for the escape ability Miller and Guiton have to break free from contact and run away from pass-rushers with their athleticism.
“You’re not allowed to finish any of those sacks, so you never know how that’s going to go with a kid like Braxton ’cause he’s so elusive, but I thought Adolphus was in the backfield an awful lot,” said cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.
Nonetheless, coach Urban Meyer expressed confidence in both Washington and Spence following Saturday’s contest.
“Adolphus Washington has really raised his level of play … he’s a starter at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “We saw him today just have his way with our offensive line.
“I am very pleased with Noah Spence,” Meyer added.
Although Miller’s black jersey didn’t stop Spence from laying a big hit on the quarterback in one practice earlier this spring, the quarterback did not have to worry about getting hit by either Spence or Washington on Saturday, as Meyer warned the team Wednesday that he would “carry a baseball bat” to prevent it from happening again. Miller did, however, get a first-hand look at the sophomore pass-rushers coming after him.
“Noah Spence and Adolphus, they work hard,” Miller said. “They have to fill big shoes from the guys who left last year … we just got to keep working with the two tackles.”
With redshirt senior left tackle Jack Mewhort held out of the lineup for precautionary reasons, sophomore Taylor Decker started at left tackle for the Scarlet offense while redshirt sophomore Chase Farris started on the right side. They were on the wrong end of the dominance by Spence and Washington, with both players giving up multiple sacks.
Decker and Farris are currently competing to start at right tackle this fall. Following Saturday’s game, Meyer expressed concern with the progress of that competition, calling the right tackle position the Buckeyes’ “one glaring weakness” on offense.
“We have a legitimate concern about who that player (right tackle) is,” Meyer said. “Unless we get that fixed, there goes the best offense in the Big Ten. You can’t play with four linemen. One of those young players has got to step up, and they haven’t this spring.”
One of five Buckeyes from the Cincinnati area, Washington was not the only Buckeye to stand out in front of a hometown crowd. Starting senior left guard Andrew Norwell played on the Scarlet offensive line, while sophomore safety Kevin Niehoff made an interception coming out of the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
Washington said it was a “real good experience” to play in the city he grew up in.
“I’m glad we was able to come here and play our Spring Game instead of going up to Cleveland,” Washington said. “I finally get a chance to play in front of the people that don’t get to make it to Columbus or wherever else we’re playing.”
The Buckeyes’ day in Cincinnati also included a pregame talk from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.
Two members of the OSU coaching staff, Meyer and Coombs, are from Cincinnati as well.
Coombs said Washington is a “born and raised Cincinnati product” who has the potential to be a “real special player for a long time.”
“Adolphus is a great kid … a phenomenal athlete, has gained a lot of good power, muscle mass and he plays really hard out there on the field,” Coombs said. “His pass rush is really good, but I tell you what, Adolphus is carrying over a 3.0 (grade point average at OSU) too. So for a kid like that to be out there in a college environment and to have come from where he is from … you couldn’t be more proud of a kid than Adolphus Washington.”