- Mike Vrabel (954)
- Jim Stillwagon (909)
- Bill Willis (581)
- Will Smith (505)
The fan votes happen to be fortuitous. The arrangement of four linemen assumes a base 4-3 defense. This is a staple of Ohio State’s current defense, but it wasn’t always the case. Defenses under Earle Bruce were more of a 3-4 look and sometimes even a 2-5 base. Woody even got creative with defensive arrangements. Still, a 4-3 is nice and basic, and the votes happened to set the Buckeyes up with two defensive ends (Vrabel and Smith) and two interior linemen (Stillwagon and Willis). Willis is a curious case, mostly because I know little of how he played at Ohio State. He may have been an outside player on Paul Brown’s defensive line for the Buckeyes, but was inducted into the pro football hall of fame as a middle guard. So I’m going to roll with that, even though he won his All-America honors as a tackle. I even think he was honored more for his contributions to offense.
Mike Vrabel is a great fit. He was a 3 year starter for Bill Young (and later: Fred Pagac) and set many Ohio State records in the process. His junior season was probably his most productive. He set a regular season sack record with 13, which was later topped by Vernon Gholston in 2007. He set a regular season TFL record with 26 for 133 yards lost. He’s still the career record holder for TFLs (66, 349 yards) and QB sacks (36, 245 yards). He’s arguably had the most productive NFL career of any Buckeye defensive lineman, albeit as a linebacker (most notably with the New England Patriots). I think Buckeye fans may expect to infer from his NFL career that Mike Vrabel, the defensive end for the Buckeyes, would be a capable option to drop off into coverage to make the hypothetical All-Alumni Defense even more formidable. Vrabel did far too much pass rushing for me to believe that Vrabel, the Buckeye linemen, would bring that to the table.
The same holds for Bill Willis. At 6’0 200lbs, he was a small defensive linemen then. When you have these All-Alumni Team discussions, you have to control for size and look and consider production. With that in mind, his strength was clearly his speed. In the NFL, he was one of the first — if not the first — to time his movement off the ball while on defense and not the man. Again, I’m going to roll with his nomination here, even though I think he was a tackle for the Buckeyes and not a guard (as he was for the Brownies).
Will Smith strikes me as a debatable selection. Tell me, which resume do you find more impressive?
- 2x First Team All-Big Ten
- 1x First Team All-American
- 209 career tackles
- 4 interceptions (as a senior)
- 2 year starter (I think he was a 3 year starter, but I’ve seen no confirmation of him as a starter his sophomore year)
Compare and contrast with:
- 1x First Team All-Big Ten
- 1x First Team All-American
- 167 tackles
- 1 interception (career)
- 3 year starter
- Chris Spielman (1024)
- AJ Hawk (965)
- Randy Gradishar (654)
There were certainly no shortage of options here. With that, this unit may actually be the most debatable and contentious of any on the entirety of the All-Alumni Team.
Therefore, a linebacker corp that’s full of middle linebackers may not be a complete unit, if we already want to hypothesize about our All-Alumni Team defense in a game setting. With that in mind, I think I’m actually fine with a starting linebacker corp of Spielman, Hawk and Gradishar. In spite of me wanting to flag AJ Hawk as being a product of recency bias, he actually appears to be the most decorated outside linebacker in Ohio State history. He’s far from the best that Ohio State has had yet, but his career as the weakside linebacker in the Hawk-Schlegel-Carpenter tandem means I’m willing to forgive his presence in the All-Alumni Team defense. He’s a frequent name in the all-time list of tackles, solo tackles and TFLs in Ohio State history, but behind important linebackers each time. Still, he brought speed, smarts and leadership to the linebacker corp for the four years he played and did so from the weakside position. He was a 3 year starter, a two-time All-American, and was even reguarly subbed in during his freshman campaign. That’s no small feat, considering that was a national champion team. However, I can object to Hawk getting almost 300 more votes than Gradishar. He’s not better than Woody’s best linebacker.
Still, by nature of the company that Spielman, Hawk and Gradishar keep, there are other good cases to be made for linebackers left out. First, what about the other #36, Tom Cousineau? Both Cousineau and Spielman are 3 time All-Big Ten selections and were twice named All-Americans. Spielman was a Lombardi Award winner whereas Cousineau was not, but Cousineau does have more total tackles3. Spielman is commonly remembered for his absurd 29 tackle performance against Michigan in 1986, but that actually isn’t the record, per se. It ties a similar 29 tackle feat set by Cousineau against Penn State in 1978. Cousineau also had similar herculean efforts against Southern Methodist in 1978 (28), Indiana in 1975 (23), Baylor in 1978 (23) and Michigan in 1976 (22) and 1978 (21). Cousineau’s senior season in 1978 included 211 tackles. That’s the best for any given campaign. If we still give the nod to Spielman, we can at least make certain the Cousineau is the middle linebacker and the All-Alumni Second Team Defense.
Then there’s the curious case of Marcus Marek, another #36. If you asked the average fan to name who leads all Ohio State players in tackles through the program’s illustrious history, you’d be hard pressed to find a fan that will correctly note that distinction belongs to Marek. Undersized and never given much value during the recruiting process, Marek went on to be one of the most productive players in Ohio State football history. He lead Ohio State in tackles for 3 years. He was the first Buckeye to do that in the process (not even Spielman and Cousineau can boast that), though the feat has since been replicated by Steve Tovar, AJ Hawk and James Laurinaitis. Marek is one of several “unsung Buckeyes” profiled by Chris at 11W for The Buckeye Battle Cry 2009. If you haven’t picked up your copy to read that article… and the others, then you know what you have to do first thing tomorrow.
- Jack Tatum (1201)
- Mike Doss (884)
- Antoine Winfield (762)
- Shawn Springs (710)
This… this is where dreams go to die. If the All-Alumni Offense of some other school wasn’t questioning their faith in God and Disney storybook endings with the front seven of the All-Alumni Buckeye defense, they certainly would with the secondary.
This is another fortuitous vote breakdown for maintaining a conventional 4-3 defense. Antoine Winfield and Shawn Springs were both cornerbacks for their careers at Ohio State, whereas Jack Tatum and Mike Doss would be the safeties. Honestly, I tried to pick this apart. I tried to say that Mike Doss shouldn’t be there, but I ultimately can’t. That is, I can provide one caveat: Jack Tatum became a free safety in the NFL, not at Ohio State. This vote breakdown assumes that Jack Tatum would be the free safety Assassin for the All-Alumni Defense whereas Mike Doss would assist with the boom, if not lower it further outright, from his strong safety position. It works, but Jack Tatum was a mold of a cornerback and linebacker for the Buckeyes. He was purposely kept close to the line of scrimmage to assist in run support and outside plays. His duties resembled that of a strong safety than it did anything else. If anyone played that free safety position, it was Mike Sensibaugh. Even then, he was the only safety on the starting defense. His free safety duties took on more of a center fielder’s role.
Further, with all these selections being recent, I don’t think I need to add anything to them. That is, I guess I can ask who of the two cornerbacks you thought was the best. Both had that quality to them where looking over their career stats didn’t tell the full story. Quarterbacks avoided the two like they were owed back rent. Winfield alone was an All-American and Thorpe Award winner as a senior in 1998 in spite of not registering a single interception. When you’re the first non-linebacker in school history to notch 200 solo tackles, you necessarily instill that fear and respect.
Other than that, I got nothing. I still want to cram Mike Sensibaugh on this list. I really do. His 22 career interceptions will probably never be challenged by a Buckeye defensive back ever again. Any ball thrown in his vicinity was sure to be returned up field by Sensibaugh. I still want to treat Tatum as a strong safety type player and force Doss off the list in favor of Sensibaugh4. I can’t bring myself to do it. Hell, Doss is a 3 time All-American. I guess I’ll have to leave Sensibaugh (and Neal Colzie and Ray Griffin) for when I construct the All-Alumni Second Team Defense. That is, I’d do that if there’s any interest there.
- Order presented by most votes. [↩]
- When did the college game start recording sacks? It couldn’t have been during Brudzinski’s time. The NFL only started keeping track of sacks in 1982. [↩]
- Spielman has more solo tackles. [↩]
- Suffice to say, Sensibaugh is my nickelback in 3rd down and long passing situations, but then which linebacker do I take off the field? [↩]