We are less than one month away from kickoff for the 2014 Ohio State football season, and The Lantern is rounding through the top 10 most important Buckeyes.
No. 4: Michael Bennett, senior defensive lineman
While the OSU defense bore the brunt of the criticism from analysts, sportscasters and fans last season, there was one element which lived up to its standard of excellence –– the defensive line.
During the Big Ten Media days in Chicago in July, the defensive line earned the praise of coach Urban Meyer who said that the unit has the ability to play to, or better than, the level of his 2006 National Championship team at Florida.
With a 6-foot, 2-inch frame and a 288 pound build, Bennett reinforced the middle of the line last season and lead from the front to contribute 11.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles to earn second team All-Big Ten honors.
Bennett has also been named to several preseason watch lists for 2014, including the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy lists.
Overcoming a minor injury early in the 2013 season, Bennett managed breakout performances late against Illinois, when he had six tackles and 0.5 sacks, and Indiana, when he had a season-high two sacks.
For a player like Bennett, however, it is not as much about numbers as it is attitude.
“I have to now be the leader that they deserve, and I have to go out there and live up to what the team needs,” Bennett said at the Big Ten Media days.
The addition of co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson simply means that Bennett will continue to improve under their guidance. During his 22 years at Penn State, Johnson was responsible for mentoring seven first team All-Americans.
“So I’ve been very impressed with Mike, his leadership skills on the field and off the field. He’s a great student, and we’re looking for great things from him,” Johnson said according to a The Lantern article from April 2.
In Chicago, Bennett also talked about the impact the defensive line has and how it fits into the pass defense.
“I feel like we’re a lot more aggressive, the (defensive backs) are a lot more aggressive, and the D-line needs to get to the quarterback more,” Bennett said. “We have an aggressive offense and an aggressive defense, and I think we have the personnel to carry that out.”
OSU may be a long way from rebuilding the renown Silver Bullet defense, but having Bennett on the field is assuredly a step in the right direction.
Physicality, athleticism and leadership are the key attributes for a player in his position, and Bennett has them all in spades. The physicality to shed blocks, the athleticism to attack the ball carrier and the leadership to make those around him better are the reasons why he has earned the No. 4 spot on The Lantern’s countdown.
OSU’s first game of the season is scheduled for Aug. 30, when the Buckeyes face Navy in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.