When sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington first arrived on the Ohio State campus one year ago, they were billed as the future of the defensive line for the Buckeyes.
That future is now, and both Spence and Washington have some big shoes to fill in 2013.
Last year’s starting defensive ends John Simon and Nathan Williams have both graduated, and junior Michael Bennett, who played in eight games at defensive end in 2012, will be starting at defensive tackle during the upcoming season.
So ready or not, it is Spence and Washington’s time to be in the spotlight.
If you ask coach Urban Meyer though, two of his earliest high profile recruits are prepared to carry the load.
“At defensive end, you’ve got Noah Spence who is really doing well. He didn’t scrimmage particularly as well as he’s been practicing but he and Adolphus Washington are potential candidates for all-conference one day,” Meyer said at OSU Media Day Aug. 11. “Maybe not this year, but someday.”
In OSU’s Spring Game on April 14 in Cincinnati, the two ends lived up to the hype, combining for seven sacks and nine total tackles for the Gray team.
Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel was asked about how his two new defensive ends would handle replacing big names like Simon and Williams.
“I don’t feel like we’re going to have a drop off in play or talent, because we recruit really hard at Ohio State and that’s important to any program,” Vrabel said at Media Day.
Washington knows what is at stake for the team this year, coming into the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, and how important it is for the defensive ends to step up to bolster a young front seven.
“We know we’ve got big shoes to fill with the D-line that left, as of right now we’re doing a pretty good job but we’re looking to make improvement,” Washington said at Media Day.
Coming into his freshman season, Spence had more hype surrounding him, due to his status as a five-star high school recruit according to rivals.com. Even now, there is still excitement surrounding him and his potential.
Meyer not only appreciates his Spence’s skill on the football field, but also how he handles himself away from it.
“Extremely high character, go hard. When I tell our coaches to go out and find players that’s who you go find. Very, very talented guy that has incredible self discipline, self respect. I love Noah Spence,” Meyer said.
This being his second year in the system at OSU, Spence feels like the extra experience has helped him make great strides and become a better player and leader.
“Basically (I know) more about the defense. All the schemes and everything like that and being able to play faster because I know more about the defense now,” Spence said. “I’m trying to become more of a leader on our defensive line. There are a lot of young players on our D-line so I guess I got try and be more of a leader.”
Bennett, the most experienced player returning on the defensive line, has noticed the growth Spence has made in his second year.
“It’s good to see him start to lead people. He’s really starting to take Jamal (Marcus) under his wing and getting him to know the plays better and go harder and all that stuff and he’s starting to play smarter,” Bennett said. “Last year, obviously he was a freshman. It’s hard to play as a true freshman, but he’s bigger now, he’s smarter and he’s a lot calmer.”
Spence said when it comes to Washington they are “best friends,” and that pushes them to keep improving in practice.
“We compete with each other, make each other better every day. Basically in practice I’m not going to let him get a sack without me getting one too,” Spence said. “We pretty much push each other to be that much better. We just talk about bettering ourselves every day. We know it’s a grind. We just make it a competition every day.”
Both Spence and Washington will be in the starting lineup and hoping to make a ripple when the season starts Aug. 31 against Buffalo at Ohio Stadium.