Ohio State can survive without Michael Hill thanks to its new DT depth

Michael Hill-Ohio State football-Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — At Ohio State on Monday, the news was not great. Defensive tackle Michael Hill will miss at least one game because of a suspension, and that number figures to grow.

“He’s suspended for a few games,” said Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer. “I’ve not determined exactly what it is right now, so he won’t play in the opener.”

With a Big Ten game against Indiana up first Aug. 31 and a rematch against Oklahoma the next week, it’s not an ideal time to lose a returning starter. The good news, though, is that the loss isn’t nearly as harmful as it might have been a year or two ago.

There’s been a bit of a hole in the middle of the Ohio State defensive line in recent seasons thanks in part to a high-profile string of runner-up finishes for elite defensive tackle prospects in the 2014-16 cycles. During that span, Ohio State didn’t land the instant help it craved from players like Thomas Holley, Neville Gallimore, Antwuan Jackson or Rashard Lawrence.

Over the past two seasons, defensive line coach Larry Johnson has started using defensive ends more often in passing situations. He put three ends on the field in the Rushmen package in 2015 and expanded it to four last fall. But thanks to development and some recent recruiting wins, the Buckeyes have built a steady stable of talent in the interior.

Dre’Mont Jones, who started alongside Hill in 2016, is being talked up as a first-round NFL draft prospect (and his teammates seem to agree). Tracy Sprinkle received praise last fall before suffering a season-ending injury to his right knee in the first game, but he’s healthy and looking good. Robert Landers has improved in each season thus far and could be in for a breakout campaign. And true freshman Haskell Garrett, the elite-level defensive tackle the Buckeyes had been missing, figures to contribute this year. He was the sixth-ranked defensive tackle in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.

“Right now he’s on course to play,” Meyer said. “That’s unusual for an interior D-lineman, but he’s really impressive right now.”

When the defense lined up for the first practice of the season, Jones and Sprinkle were with the first team and Landers and Jashon Cornell were in the next group. But it goes deeper than that. When asked about the defensive tackles, left tackle Jamarco Jones dished out praise for Jones, Sprinkle, Landers, Davon Hamilton and Garrett.

“It’s crazy to think about how many defensive tackles I just named, and that’s not even including the ends,” Jones said. “Our defensive line group deep right now.”

Collectively, as a group, that bunch has been giving the offensive line all it can handle in practice. That’s in part because of the individual talents of the tackles but also one of the benefits of being deep enough to rotate.

“We always make fun of them because they go three plays and they’re out,” center Billy Price said. “I’ll say, ‘Oh, it must be nice. I just ran a nine-play series and you’re out for six-plus plays.’ But it’s very impressive.”

And because of that newfound depth, the Buckeyes should be just fine for however long Hill ends up sitting.

The post Ohio State can survive without Michael Hill thanks to its new DT depth appeared first on Land of 10.

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