Defensive end has been an experienced position on the Cowboys' depth chart for the past several years. Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones combined for 12.0 sacks and 20 tackles-for-loss in 2011. Last year, seniors Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett manned the position effectively. But 2013 will feature mostly new faces at the position.
Senior Tyler Johnson, a projected starter, is by far the most experienced of the bunch despite playing linebacker during his first two years at OSU. After making the switch to defensive end, Johnson played in 11 games last fall and recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
His best performance came in the bowl game when he had six tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. At 6-foot-1, Johnson isn't your prototypical defensive end but he uses his speed and strength to make up for what he lacks in size. Given his experience, Johnson is also the de facto leader of this young group of defensive ends.
"It's one of those things that you have to take ownership on," Johnson said. "It's obvious that I'm a senior and a lot of guys look up to me. I am excited to take on that role.
"We go out there and work hard. After each and every practice we go to the meetings and learn how to correct the mistakes. It's an exciting environment right now because there are guys that want to learn."
But what this unit lacks in experience, it makes up for in athleticism and quality depth.
Sophomore Jimmy Bean, a high school teammate of J.W. Walsh and Josh Stewart at Denton Guyer, was on track to get playing time last year before an injury forced him to redshirt. Now he's back and expected to start alongside Johnson.
Junior college transfer Sam Wren and redshirt freshman Trace Clark are in the mix for significant playing time as well, and could end up earning some starts.
Wren, whose 14.5 sacks last year at Arizona Western CC ranked second nationally, has caught the eye of first-year defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer.
"Sam Wren has been a really good surprise," Spencer said. "He has a great lead and can really get on the edge fast."
But don't discount redshirted freshmen Victor Irokansi and Jeremiah Tshimanga either. Irokansi drew rave reviews from the coaching staff in the spring and some said Tshimanga may be the most athletic prospect on the defensive line.
Spencer emphasizes keeping his defensive linemen motivated mentally and physically. Practicing against an offense as fast as the Cowboys' will quickly drain a defense's energy.
"I tell them that it's just one day and then it's over. We try to go in every practice and get five turnovers every day."