If everything goes right for Ohio State's defensive line this season, sophomore ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington will go from untested first-time starters to established stars in the course of 12 games.
The Buckeyes have an all-new defensive front (two players off last year's front were drafted, tackle Johnathan Hankins in the second round by the New York Giants and end John Simon in the fourth by Baltimore) and big things are expected from Spence (6-feet-3, 247 pounds) and Washington (6-3, 292 -- a gain of about 60 pounds since high school). It's the first time in 28 seasons that Ohio State has had to replace its entire defensive line.
"I don't feel like we're going to have a drop off in play or talent," Buckeyes defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said at Ohio State's media day earlier this month.
Both are extremely athletic and were big-time recruits in the 2012 class: Spence was a consensus top-five player nationally and the No. 1 defensive end, while Washington was a national top-25 player and a top-five end. Both played as reserves last season, with Washington making nine tackles and three sacks in 10 games and Spence making 12 tackles and a sack.
Washington -- who had 42.5 sacks in his final two seasons of high school in Cincinnati and also was an all-state basketball player -- is the better-rounded of the two, showing an ability to stop the run and also to get after the passer. Spence plays what Ohio State calls the "Leo" end, a hybrid spot that calls for the player to sometimes drop into coverage. Spence has excellent pass-rush skills but must show he can hold up against the run.
"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 told reporters at media day. "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."
Ohio State has had seven players in its history reach 10 sacks in a season. Spence and Washington each have 10-sack potential.