This spring Ohio State coach Jim Tressel sat down with defensive end Cameron Heyward and showed him stats from some of the nation's most dominant defensive linemen in 2009, including Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. Compared with Suh (24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks in '09) and McCoy (15 and six), Heyward had relatively modest numbers last fall, with 10 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks, but they didn't reflect the impact of this high-motor competitor. With the Buckeyes rotating as many as nine linemen, Heyward played only about 60% of the defensive snaps. But the departure of three starting linemen from last season's team means that the 6'5", 288-pound senior should be on the field closer to 90% of the time this fall. "When you look at Suh and McCoy, they took over the game for the full four quarters," says Heyward. "I want to do that every game and do it all the time."
Ohio State leaned heavily on Heyward and the defensive line last season en route to its fifth straight Big Ten championship and first Rose Bowl appearance since 1997. While the Buckeyes' young offense struggled, their defense ranked seventh nationally against the run (90.8 yards per game), proving particularly dominant in a big road win at Penn State and against Oregon in Pasadena. This year the BCS-title-dreaming Buckeyes are experienced virtually across the board, led by star quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Heyward, however, is the lone returning starter on the front four, where promising talents Nathan Williams and John Simon must step up. "Last year's [defensive line] was deep and fresh," says Tressel. "One of the keys in 2010 is whether our young group will develop to where we can maintain that same philosophy."
Heyward's father, former New Orleans Saints running back Craig (Ironhead) Heyward, died of brain cancer in 2006, when Cameron was a high school junior. Cameron honored his father in the 2008 BCS championship game in New Orleans by writing iron and head on his eye-black patches. While Craig was known as a punishing runner, Cameron never showed interest in carrying the ball. "I'd much rather hit somebody," he says, "than let someone hit me." He's going to get more chances to do that this fall.
CONFERENCE Big Ten
COACH Jim Tressel (10th year)
2009 RECORD 11--2 (7--1 in Big Ten)
FINAL AP RANK 5
RETURNING STARTERS 14
Offense 8, Defense 6
11 Miami (Fla.)
25 Eastern Michigan
2 at Illinois
16 at Wisconsin
30 at Minnesota
13 Penn State
20 at Iowa
The instinctive Homan led the team in tackles (108) and also picked off five passes in 2009.
Terrelle Pryor's favorite target emerged as a deep threat last year.
After his Rose Bowl Offensive MVP performance, the dynamic QB enters 2010 with a firm grasp of the playbook, a healthy left knee and realistic Heisman hopes.
RANDY LITZINGER/ICON SMI (HEYWARD)
The 6'5", 288-pound Heyward will see more snaps this year as the only returning starter on the defensive line.