COLUMBUS — There is a bit of a growl in his voice when Ohio State senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington talks about the role he and his cohorts in the trench need to fill in order for 2009 to be another championship season for the Buckeyes.
And there is nothing vague about Worthington's snarl or his expectations.
“We can't just play this year – we need to dominate,” he said. “Everybody says they love to play and they want to play hard. But that's not enough for us. We need to be the dominant group out on the field.”
As it readies for Navy in tomorrow's season-opener, Ohio State has one of its deepest, most athletic and talented defensive fronts in some time. The plan calls for a relentless shuttle of fresh bodies to keep the aggression at a feverish pitch.
“We've got eight, 10 guys who can go right in there and get the job done,” Worthington said. “Who's starting doesn't matter, because we're going to be running guys in and out so everybody's rested, and everybody's hungry.”
Worthington and former Indiana high school heavyweight wrestling champ Dexter Larimore should take on the lead roles at tackle with Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward going at the ends. Garrett Goebel and Todd Denlinger back up inside, while Nathan Williams and Lawrence Wilson are the first reinforcements at the ends. Rob Rose, Keith Wells and Solomon Thomas provide further depth. Larimore said the group has had a strong fall camp.
“I think the level of talent and the amount of talent we have along the defensive line has worked like a catalyst, and forced everyone to get even better,” Larimore said. “The competition has been great. I thought that as a group, we were pretty good this spring, but in camp I think we've moved even further along.”
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel rarely dabbles in the intimate details of the defense, preferring to spend his time tutoring the Buckeye quarterbacks, but Tressel has some specific assignments for his attackers up front.
“That is one of our more experienced groups, so naturally we expect them to be a little further along in their development and preparation,” Tressel said.
“I've always felt that the best defenses are the ones that keep the opposition under constant pressure, and if our defensive line can put the quarterback in pressure situations, they'll make mistakes and turn the ball over. We need our D-line to win the battles up front, and be a disruptive force, and that source of constant pressure.”
Worthington, one of the Buckeyes' newly elected captains, said that job description fits just fine. With eight of the top nine players on the defensive front back from the 2008 group that was the second-stingiest in the Big Ten, allowing only 13.9 points per game, he thinks the soldiers are assembled.
“Our role is to create chaos, to attack every down, and force the offense out of its rhythm,” Worthington said. “The guys on the line — we have the experience and we know how to make plays. If we're out there playing smart and fast and physical every down, we'll help this team win.”
OSU's defensive front gets a difficult test its first time out, since Navy has led the nation in rushing for four consecutive seasons.
“It's going to be tough — that's an offense we've never seen before,” Larimore said. “But no matter what they run, it's about following your assignment and winning the battles along the line, and I feel like we've got a group that can be dominant in that role.”