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August 15, 2013

Vrabel brings championship pedigree to defensive line

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Between 14 seasons in the NFL and six at Ohio State, Buckeyes defensive line coach Mike Vrabel has nearly seen it all.

From a Rose Bowl win in 1997 to a Super Bowl dynasty with the New England Patriots to a losing season in the first year of his coaching career and an undefeated campaign in 2012, you'd be hard-pressed to find a scenario in a football season that Vrabel hasn't been a part of. It's that kind of experience that has not only made for a seamless transition into coaching for the former All-Pro linebacker, but has also provided him with a plethora of teaching tools for his players.

"I try to coach on testimonial, cases I've seen," Vrabel said at Ohio State's media day on Sunday. "Guys do well, guys not do well. Guys get hurt and not being able to play. Guys be overweight, guys be underweight. Guys be dehydrated, miss camp. Whatever situation these guys come across, I've probably seen as a player in four years in Ohio State and 14 in the NFL."

If there's one accolade missing from Vrabel's resume and an experience that he's not yet able to speak on, it's a college football national championship. But according to his boss, he's doing his best to change that.

"Mike Vrabel, he's attacking coaching the same way he attacked playing as a pro," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said. "You don't survive as long as he did in the National Football League unless you've got an extremely high work ethic and you're very professional about your job. He was a first year defensive line coach, and you can tell he's a very experienced defensive line coach now."

Replacing all four starters on the defensive line this season, the Buckeyes will need Vrabel's advice and expertise now more than ever. Gone are NFL Draft picks John Simon and Johnathan Hankins, replaced by the likes of highly-touted defense ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence.

The talent is certainly there in Ohio State's front-four, and from what Meyer's seen through one week of fall camp, it's being brought out of the quartet of new starters by their position coach.

"I've seen some progress in the technique and things we expect," Meyer said. "It has to happen. We just don't have very many older guys."

Despite his lengthy professional career that saw him act as a key cog on three Patriots Super Bowl championship teams, Vrabel has not relied on what he did as a player, but rather how he did it. Even at a football powerhouse like Ohio State, not every player that the Akron, Ohio native coaches will posses NFL talent, but that won't stop him from trying to maximize what each Buckeyes defensive lineman does have.

"I just try to coach them as hard as I possibly can," he said. "Get them to play with effort, get them to try to play with some toughness and some technique and I think I can help with all three of those."

With 2013 being Vrabel's third year back at Ohio State since his career as a defensive end with the Buckeyes from 1993-96, the product of Walsh Jesuit High School has not only made a name for himself on the field as a coach, but off of it as a recruiter. Since Meyer arrived in Columbus in November of 2011, the Buckeyes have hauled in two top-four classes, with Vrabel playing a key role in the recruitment of Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Gareon Conley, Michael Hill, Tyquan Lewis, Donovan Munger, Billy Price, and Tracy Sprinkle.

It hasn't been hard for the Buckeyes' all-time leader in sacks to sell highly-touted high school prospects on joining him at his alma mater, which hired him mere hours after his official retirement from the NFL in 2011.

"I've lived in Columbus since 1993," Vrabel said. "I didn't own a dorm room, but I lived in the dorm room, I've rented an apartment, I've owned a condo, and I own a house, since 1993. So it was only natural to come back here to Columbus.

"I never really left, I just spent half the year somewhere else playing football."

Now that Columbus is his permanent home, year-round, Vrabel remains intent on adding the missing piece to his lengthy list of accomplishments. And according to Meyer, if he can do that, it'll be because he played a role for the Buckeyes as significant as the one that won him three rings in New England.

"It's where it all starts," Meyer said of the defensive line. "You want to have a bad football team? Have a bad D-line. You can be average in some other spots and kind of hide them. But it's over if you have a bad defensive line. You have no chance."

Given Vrabel's track record, that doesn't seem like something that Meyer is going to have to worry about for the foreseeable future.

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