COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With the Ohio State coaching staff relying on a heavy rotation of quarterbacks and running backs, there's been just one constant in the Buckeyes' backfield through their first 11 sessions of spring practice. And his name is Noah Spence.
No, the sophomore defensive end has not made a position change to offense, but he's certainly made his presence felt this offseason. Whether it be in one-on-one drills with Ohio State's veteran offensive line or in full squad scrimmages, Spence has wreaked havoc this spring, routinely racing past his opponent and to the Buckeyes signal-callers and ball-carriers alike.
Spence's emergence couldn't have come at a better time for Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who is currently faced with the enviably task of replacing all four starters on his unit, something that the Buckeyes haven't had to do in 28 years.
"Noah plays really hard," Vrabel said. "Noah's got a lot of ability. A lot of God-given athletic ability. You blend all of those together and you've got a pretty good product."
It was that type of skill that made Spence a five-star prospect coming out of Bishop McDevitt high school a year ago. One of the most highly-touted defensive recruits in program history, Spence's commitment to Ohio State helped turn Urban Meyer's first class in Columbus from good to great, and the thought was that he'd be able to contribute immediately after arriving on campus last June.
The Harrisburg, Pa. native did find some playing time in his freshman season, but perhaps not as much as many imagined, with the Buckeyes routinely relying on their four starting veterans upfront. Playing 237 snaps, Spence showed flashes of what he's capable of, recording 12 tackles, including one sack for a 20-yard loss. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound lineman also showed the ability to drop back into coverage, breaking up one pass on the season.
"Any time was good for me, I was happy with it. But I'm never satisfied with anything. I don't think I did as good as I could've did," Spence admitted. "I want to do a lot better."
In an effort to do just that, Spence has spent more time studying his playbook. The sophomore-to-be admitted that his play in 2012 was limited by a lack of knowledge of defensive responsibilities outside of his own on the playing field.
"I know more about schemes and where other people are going. That messed me up a lot last year," he said. "I would know pretty much what I was doing, but if somebody changed the call almost right before the play, then I would not know what was going on. I just have to feel the defense a lot better."
Whether it's been the work that he's put in this offseason, the opportunity to see time as a starter, or a combination of the two, his improvement has been apparent. Seeing Spence burst past would-be blockers has become commonplace inside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this spring, which is especially impressive when you consider that in most drills, he's matched up against a second-team All-Big Ten left tackle in senior Jack Mewhort.
"I'm glad he's on our team that's all I can say," OSU offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. "It's hard to coach speed. He can change the game on the edge and that's good for us. He can be an impact player for us."
Spence's spectacular play won't seem so bad for the Ohio State offense come this fall, when both Buckeye units are wearing the same colored jerseys and taking on a common opponent. And according to Ohio State's rising star, it's then that he plans on truly making his mark.
"I got better from last year, hopefully. I'm still learning," Spence said. "I'm still not as good as I want to be. I'm learning every day. I'm getting better."