The ever changing defensive line

Nick McWilliams, Staff Writer
Buckeye Grove

USA Today Sports Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The same, repetitive storyline has drug on and on, week after week.

Ohio State's defensive line is crazy good, and seems to be improving every week.

But a few subtle differences in last week's dominating performance and the preparation for this Saturday against Nebraska might change a few things. That change starts with the return of Michael Hill from suspension.

Hill had been out for the first six weeks of the season due to a violation of team rules, with no further explanation provided. Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano announced Buckeye fans finally have the chance to see Hill in action.

That is, as long as he's in the game plan.

"How much playing time? We’ll see,” Schiano said Tuesday. “That will all play out with however (defensive line coach Larry Johnson) plans to use him. But he’s an experienced guy who has played really good football for us over time.”

Hill is the definition of a nose tackle, standing at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds. A wide body who can clog up the middle of an offensive line, Hill has flashed athleticism by busting through the line for a couple tackles for loss.

With Hill out for the first six weeks of the year, and Dre'Mont Jones nursing a bad cut suffered in a locker room incident a few weeks ago, Urban Meyer turned to defensive end Jalyn Holmes to fill in the defensive tackle spot opposite of Tracey Sprinkle. Holmes played well, but the spot seems destined to be turned over to Hill.

That is, unless, the team has been so impressed by the play of Jones that he keeps hold of his starting role. There will undoubtedly be some rust on Hill after missing so many game reps, but the battle for the starting role will be closely monitored as the season progresses.

With all the talk of the depth of the defensive ends for Ohio State, some of that focus can be shifted to the wealth at defensive tackle.

Sam Hubbard's hybrid role

Take a quick look at defensive end Sam Hubbard when he walks out onto the field, and it would be forgivable to mistake him for a long outside linebacker. After all, Hubbard did arrive in Columbus as a linebacker recruit. That was a long time ago, when Hubbard was committed to Notre Dame to play lacrosse before deciding to continue his football career under Meyer. The dodgeball story has been told time and time again, so one more telling will be spared here.

If you are not familiar with Hubbard the lacrosse player, take a look at his highlight video above.

The reason for including these collection of highlights is to emphasis the body change Hubbard has gone through in three short years. Listed at 187 pounds in his senior highlight package for lacrosse, Hubbard was listed at 223 as a football recruit.

Now, in 2017, Hubbard is listed at 265 pounds, which might be a little forgiving of the lanky end. His athleticism has propelled him far, even with the few extra pounds packed on by strength coach Mickey Marotti.

Against Maryland, Hubbard got to display his athleticism by doing something few defensive ends ever do at Ohio State — dropping back into coverage.

With 7:05 left in the second quarter, Maryland found itself at the 31-yard line of Ohio State after being gifted great field position off a horrid Drue Chrisman punt. On 3rd and 4, Hubbard lined up in a linebacker stance over the Terrapins' left tackle, and contained the edge before tripping up Ty Johnson.

Near the midway point of the third quarter, Hubbard line up over the right side of the right tackle, this time dropping into coverage. His presence in a passing lane disrupted the Maryland play, and pass feel to the turf a few yards behind him.

With his length and athleticism, and ability to drop in coverage and react to plays heading his way, Hubbard could find himself earning more playing time as a hybrid defensive end, or even an outside linebacker at the next level.

Hubbard says he enjoys getting the chance to drop back and play the pass.

"I feel real comfortable doing that," he said, "Having my eyes on the quarterback and breaking on the ball, standing up and chasing down the ball. I feel like it's my strong suit, so every time I get to do that, I try to do the best that I can."

Hubbard the defensive end, but Hubbard the linebacker might be even more terrifying. Keep an eye out for No. 6 dropping back in coverage a few more times as the season progresses.

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