Williams, Klein Could Bolster OSU Defense This Week
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It might not solve all of Ohio State’s problems on defense, but the Buckeyes are expecting a few reinforcements this week as they prepare to face a dangerous Cal offense.
The Golden Bears only managed 24 points in their season-opening loss to Nevada, but Jeff Tedford – who has been known for his offense throughout the years – does have some firepower on that side of the ball.
If the Buckeyes can’t put pressure on Cal quarterback Zach Maynard, they could be in for a long day defensively.
Photo by Dan Harker
“Well, we haven’t pressured and there’s two ways to get home,” Urban Meyer said after practice Wednesday.
“One is have a great player beat the guy (across from him). We haven’t done that enough. The other is to bring more than they can block and we haven’t done enough of that, either.”
Ohio State is currently ranked dead-last in the Big Ten, and 114th in the country with just five tackles for loss. By comparison, Indiana is first in the conference, and 12th in the country, with 18 stops in the backfield.
One reason for that has been the absence of starting defensive end Michael Bennett. He is not expected back this week against the Bears because of a groin injury, but Meyer is hoping he will have senior Nathan Williams available.
“Nathan Williams practiced today,” Meyer said Wednesday, “so I anticipate that he’ll play on Saturday.”
Williams, who led Ohio State’s defense in sacks two years ago, played about 30 snaps in the opener against Miami (Ohio). It turned out to be too many for Williams, after nearly a year away from the game.
Photo by Dan Harker
His knee reportedly swelled up after the game and he was too sore this past week to play against Central Florida. The Buckeyes will have to do a better job monitoring the number of plays they can use Williams on a week-to-week basis without jeopardizing his status for the next game.
“I think for the next 10 weeks, it's going to be, how is Nathan Williams doing,” Meyer said.
“It's going to be probably the same response: I don't know. We'll see how he goes up this week.”
With Bennett out, the Buckeyes are missing a key component of their defensive line. The sophomore out of Centerville is a guy who adds a little bit of everything when he’s on the field.
“We miss him a lot,” said Johnathan Hankins, who had to move outside and play some strongside end in Bennett’s absence this past week.
“Just his ability to pass rush and play the run has been missed, but he’s getting better and I think he’s going to be back pretty soon.”
According to Meyer, the Buckeyes actually may not have Bennett in the lineup for a few more weeks. He re-tweaked his groin before the opener and an MRI revealed some further damage on the inside.
That makes the health of Nathan Williams particularly critical over the next few weeks, but the Buckeyes will need to find a few more guys on the defensive line who can go out there and make plays for coordinator Luke Fickell.
“I feel like we have a nice group of guys who can play that position,” Hankins said Wednesday.
“Right now we’re just rolling guys through to see who can play the position well. I feel like this week J.T. Moore or Se’Von Pittman could be one of those guys.”
Pittman hasn’t played in a game yet, but the freshman from Canton McKinley has been working with the Ohio State defense this week in practice rather than the scout team. The Buckeyes started with Hankins outside and freshman Tommy Schutt inside at defensive tackle, but they also expect a lot out of fellow freshman Adolphus Washington.
“He’s doing very good. He’s just got to just go,” Hankins said.
“With his pass rush ability, he has to just go and stop thinking all the time. I think he’s going to be a good player.”
It looks like Fickell and Mike Vrabel will have to keep mixing and matching on the defensive line until Bennett is healthy – they could sure use Adam Bellamy right now – but the X-factor is, and will continue to be Nathan Williams.
“When Nate’s in the game, we can put John Simon at (strongside) end so we don’t have to worry about any of those problems,” Hankins said.
“With Nate, it’s always a relief that he’s back and playing. I feel like he’s going to be ready this week and it’s going to be a big help to our defense.”
Klein Cleared to Return
The Buckeyes will also have another senior available on defense this week, as linebacker Storm Klein officially returns to the team. He’s been practicing for a couple weeks, but Klein’s two-game suspension is officially over.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Yeah, he’s back,” Meyer said of the senior from Licking Valley.
“He’ll play in this game. I don’t know how much. That’s up to Luke. But he’s been cleared and he’s worked hard.”
Meyer said Klein has “handled himself with humility” since being reinstated to the team this fall. After starting 10 games last season, Klein missed all of fall camp after he was arrested for domestic violence.
The case was ultimately pled down to a much lesser charge, which opened the door for Klein’s return to the football team. He likely won’t push for much time on the defense this week, but 6-2, 242-pound linebacker could be an asset on special teams.
“Those are my guys,” Meyer said of his coverage teams.
“(De’van) Bogard, (David) Perkins, Najee Murray, Griff (Adam Griffin), Jamal Marcus – those are all my guys. They’re going to be good football players here because they’re relentless, they’re selfless and they say yes when you ask them to do something.
Meyer added, “That’s my favorite group on the team right now is that little unit of kickoff guys. That’s fun to watch. I hope our fans enjoy watching seven silver helmets hit a guy at the 14-yard line. That’s cool stuff.”
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