DEs show promise; offensive line not yet set

Ohio State defensive ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence turned the Ohio State spring game at times into a sack fest. And while coach Urban Meyer was excited about those budding stars, he was vexed by the play of his right tackle candidates.

Vandalia product Taylor Decker couldn’t contain Spence, who had three sacks, and converted defensive end Chase Farris was whipped by Washington, who had four.

The Buckeyes led the Big Ten in scoring last season and figure to be the pace-setter again after losing only right tackle Reid Fragel and third-leading receiver Jake Stoneburner. But Meyer believes they won’t have a prolific offense without the emergence of a suitable replacement for Fragel.

“The one glaring weakness is that fifth spoke of the offensive line. We have a legitimate concern who that player is,” Meyer said. “I feel good about four of the five starters. But unless we get that fixed, there goes the best offense in the Big Ten because you can’t play with four linemen.

“One of those young guys has to step up, and they haven’t this spring. (They’re) showing signs. ….To be the best offense in the Big Ten, you have to have five guys up front, which we had last year.”

Meyer, though, had high praise for Washington, a Cincinnati native who made a big splash during his homecoming.

“He has really raised his level of play. He’s a legitimate player,” Meyer said. “You saw him today just have his way at times with our offensive line.”

The Buckeyes have to replace all four starters on their front four, but Washington and Spence lessen some of those concerns.

“I just went out there and played football,” Washington said. “I did what my coaches told me to do, and it just happened that I got four sacks today.”

As for what he gleaned as a freshman last season, Washington said: “I learned that in college, everybody plays hard every play. That surprised me a little.”

Safety net: Meyer is looking for more from senior safety C.J. Barnett, who could end up being a captain. He had one tackle in the scrimmage.

“C.J. Barnett is a guy who had an up and down season last year,” Meyer said. “He’s a very good leader. He’s on our leadership group. He’s a guy I’m counting on to have a tremendous year, and he did have a tremendous spring.”

The Buckeyes have to replace seven starters on defense, but the Northmont grad sees plenty of talent in the ranks.

“I think we made great strides this spring,” Barnett said. “There were a lot of questions coming into this season, especially on the defense with guys like John Simon graduating. It was important to see guys like Adolphus Washington step up and make some plays.”

Spring star: Lanky receiver Michael Thomas had a game-high seven catches for 79 yards. He had 12 receptions for 131 yards in the spring game as an early-enrollee freshman last year, but that didn’t carry over to the season.

The nephew of former NFL No. 1 pick Keyshawn Johnson finished 2012 with three catches for 22 yards.

“He’s one of those guys who just makes these great plays and then makes mistakes,” Meyer said. “It’s a lack of either focus or just inconsistency, which great players don’t have.”

Queen City welcome: On a brisk but sunny day, the Buckeyes drew 37,643 fans in 65,535-seat Paul Brown Stadium. They’ve averaged a robust 71,661 spectators for the last seven spring games in Ohio Stadium, including an NCAA spring game record of 95,722 in 2009.

Still, it was considered an impressive turnout in a region that’s not rabid Buckeye country. The University of Cincinnati averaged 29,138 fans for seven home games last season.

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