COLUMBUS -- It was more than three months ago that the Buckeyes beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl in what was the final game for the 2010 Ohio State team.
But the reality that one era was ending and another was about to start didn't really strike home until the OSU players lined up earlier this month for spring practice. With a different face to his left and a different one to his right, John Simon got a blunt reminder that the 2011 Buckeyes were about to take shape.
"It's the way it goes -- the older guys finish up and move on, and the younger guys move in and have to take their place," said Simon, who was an honorable mention All-Big Ten choice last season as a sophomore starter on a defense loaded with senior talent.
With seniors Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore joining Simon and junior Nathan Williams in the lead group up front, the Buckeyes could flex their brute strength and show off their finesse as they fielded the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten. With Heyward and Larimore and a number of other 2010 seniors now gone, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said major changes are in the works this spring.
"You look down that roster, and there are some folks that have played a lot of football that aren't here any more," Tressel said as Ohio State opened spring camp. "We're going to miss a whole bunch of guys, which gives a lot of opportunity for the next group of people to step up and take over and see what the 2011 Buckeyes are all about."
Ohio State allowed only 96.7 rushing yards per game last season, and gave up just nine rushing and nine passing touchdowns in 13 games. Simon said he has cause to be optimistic about maintaining that elite defensive standard.
"Seeing a lot of the young guys improve and get better every day and just seeing the excitement even though we aren't working toward a big game or anything," Simon said. "Just seeing the excitement and passion we have."
Williams (6-3, 260) is a fixture at one end and the team's best pass rusher. Simon (6-2, 270) can play either tackle or end, while sophomore Johnathan Hankins (6-3, 320) demonstrated last season that he can be a beast in the middle. Junior Garrett Goebel (6-3, 285) played a lot in the rotation last year and should start at the other tackle beside Hankins, if Simon moves to end.
"We were having a good time," Simon said after a recent scrimmage in which the OSU defense dominated the action. "That's the way defense should be: Just let loose and have fun."
Melvin Fellows (6-5, 250) and Solomon Thomas (6-5, 260) are expected to be the primary backups at the end positions. Thomas is one of five Buckeyes who will be forced to sit out the first five games of 2011 serving an NCAA mandated suspension. He had a crucial interception late in the Sugar Bowl that stopped an Arkansas drive deep in OSU territory and preserved the win for the Buckeyes.
Whitmer's Kenny Hayes (6-5, 240), an incoming freshman this fall, gets his chance to push for playing time at end when pre-season camp begins in August. Adam Bellamy (6-4, 300) and Joel Hale (6-4, 305) are likely the top backups at the tackles.
SPRING GAME: The format and the name for Ohio State's annual spring game have changed. This year it is called the Jesse Owens Spring Game presented by Nationwide, and will be held at 1:30 on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. As in recent years, the football event will be preceded by an Ohio State lacrosse match. This year the Buckeyes men's lacrosse team meets Fairfield at 11 a.m.
Instead of a standard Scarlet vs. Gray, two-team structured contest, the football Buckeyes will hold a situational scrimmage. The ball will be put in play at different locations on the field to replicate game-like situations, and scripted plays will follow. Points will be awarded to both the offense and the defense based on predetermined values for first downs, turnovers, impact plays, etc.
Tickets for the OSU spring double-header are $7 in advance and $15 on Saturday at the stadium, with one ticket gaining admission to both the lacrosse and football events.
Advance tickets are available online at OhioStateBuckeyes.com, with game day sales cash only. All seating is general admission, with children 6-and-under admitted free. According to OSU, open parking will be available in most of the lots surrounding Ohio Stadium.
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.