Lest the statistics majors in the crowd get up in arms about using just one example to prove a point, consider the performance came one week after a similarly strong showing in the annual spring jersey scrimmage.
April 12 at Ohio Stadium the defensive line produced a total of 5 1/2 sacks and constantly pressured whomever was at quarterback. Yesterday, the pressure was relatively consistent as well.
“As a defensive line, I feel we wanted to get a lot more pressure, be more of a force on the defense, and I think we did,” tackle Doug Worthington summed up.
The two performances, the latter public and former at least viewable by the media a select few others, were indicative of work done behind closed doors all spring.
“I feel this spring each practice and scrimmage we got more and more pressure,” he said.
The progress has come via a combination of concentrating on fundamentals, such as staying low and using hands to get off blocks, and simply getting more work. Of the four scholarship tackles, only Nader Abdallah will be a senior this fall and he had relatively little game experience prior to last season. The same can be said of Worthington, who will be a junior, while Dexter Larimore is just a sophomore-to-be. The fourth tackle, Todd Denlinger, played a few snaps as a redshirt freshman in 2006 but had the middle part of his 2007 hindered by an injury.
Larimore had two sacks in the spring game while Abdallah and Denlinger each had one. Abdallah also had a sack in the jersey scrimmage, as did Worthington, while Denlinger had .5 of one.
All got extensive work this spring, though, as there were not many players with whom to share reps.
Worthington said more playing time lends itself to better instincts.
“When you feel an offensive lineman blocking down on you, when you first come in you might not understand to get across him to where the ball is going, but the ball is always going where the blocker is trying to take you away from so I think as you get older you progressively learn that,” he said. “I feel that’s very big because a lot of guys have been on the line now – the inside guys are very experienced.”
Worthington sees reason to be optimistic about the end position, too, where Lawrence Wilson spent the spring getting re-acclimated to football after missing almost all of last season with a broken leg, while Thaddeus Gibson learned the finer points of pass rushing after a move from linebacker. Worthington also noticed improvement in Cameron Heyward, an end who had moments of brilliance last year as a true freshman.
Wilson had a half sack in the spring game and a full one in the jersey scrimmage, when both Gibson and Heyward had solo sacks of their own.
“I feel that as those guys mature and understand the defense more, the sky is the limit for our line and the defense in general,” Worthington said.
Denlinger felt good about the spring, too.
“We got great work,” he said. “A lot of times when you don’t have a lot of guys, sometimes you may think that guys may take some plays off but I think across the board we went 100 percent all the time and I think we got a lot better as spring went on.
“I think it showed today as we got some pressure. We just hope to build and continue to get stronger in the offseason and have a great season next year.”
Up front the pressure is a lot better and just attacking double-teams and doing the little things right.
Denlinger is happy to see that reinforcements are on the way, too, in the form of five new recruits.
“It’s going to be nice having some guys backing everybody up and taking some reps in practice so you’re not going all the time in practice,” he said.
More bodies should help the line stay healthier than it was in 2007, when hardly any of the defensive linemen avoided the injury bug.
“It’s going to be exciting to see how those young guys develop,” Denlinger said.