Carter Provides Intriguing Option for Fickell
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State coaches saw a little bit of Johnathan Hankins in Chris Carter when they decided to move him over to the defensive side of the ball back in spring.
- The Big Hungry
Photo by Dan Harker
Or, better yet, they saw a little of ‘Big Hank’ in the ‘Big Hungry.’
It was a just glimmer, but it was enough to give head coach Urban Meyer and his defensive coaching staff a reason to think Carter might have a much brighter future on the other side of the ball.
“He’s not a guy who thinks real well on the run,” Meyer said of the robust second-year player out of Cleveland.
“He’s a little bit like Hank, you have your assignment, do your assignment and play with great intensity. We saw glimpses of that towards the end of spring practice.”
Carter had been floundering as an oversized offensive lineman under the previous coaching staff. They had tried him at tackle initially and then at guard, but Carter was having a rough time finding a spot to call his own on offense.
Even he knew he wasn’t going to last long under new offensive line coach Ed Warinner.
Photo by Dan Harker
“I was excited about it because I knew I wasn’t really progressing as an O-lineman through the first half of spring,” Carter said of his switch to defense.
“So I was excited to get another chance and to go to the D-line where you can take out all your aggression on that center.”
Aggression is something Carter had plenty of, mostly built up frustration from a year of getting moved around and tossed around, despite being the largest human being on the entire team. Maybe in the entire city.
It was tough to get a gauge on where Carter might be able to contribute when he was closing in on 400 pounds last year. Then-interim head coach Luke Fickell even joked that Carter was the first player he had see who actually gained weight during offseason conditioning.
Only it wasn’t a joking matter.
“Our whole thing with him is going to be conditioning,” Meyer said this offseason.
“He’s doing that as we speak. If he can learn to get himself in shape, he has a chance to play. If not, there’s no chance.”
Carter reportedly ballooned up towards 390 pounds during his freshman season at Ohio State, but that all started to change when Meyer and strength coach Mickey Marotti got a hold of him back in January.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle, but I’m down to about 355,” Carter said Sunday, “and I’m feeling a lot better.”
He’s also looking a lot better.
Photo by Jim Davidson
While he is still one of the biggest players on the team—if not the biggest—Carter is starting to round himself into the kind of shape he will need to be in if he’s going to play up front on Ohio State’s defensive line.
“More round or what are you talking about,” Fickell cracked when asked about the offseason transformation.
“He’s definitely in better shape and he will continue to get in better shape. He’s down around the 350 range. He’s still got a long way to go, but he’s got a lot of promise and you see a little bit of energy and fire about him. He’s a guy with a lot of football ahead of him.”
Carter is only a redshirt freshman. While his first year was basically a wash, the big man from John F. Kennedy High School could give Fickell and defensive line coach Mike Vrabel and intriguing option in the middle of their defensive line.
“He’s a big guy and no one can really move him,” said Hankins, who has taken Carter under his wing this offseason.
“If he learns to play with leverage and stay low – which I think I’m going to help him with – he’s going to be really a key for our defense.”
If anyone would have said that about Carter a year ago, they probably would have been laughed at. While he certainly looked like a football player because of his massive 6-4 frame, Carter looked sloppy and out of place at Ohio State.
The only real reason he kept getting reps on the offensive line was the fact they didn’t have much depth before the arrival of Taylor Decker and the other freshmen in the 2012 class.
“We didn’t have any depth on the offensive line,” Meyer said.
“Once coach Warinner started developing some depth—(Antonio) Underwood and Tommy (Brown) came on a little bit—we started to develop a little depth.
“Taylor Decker came in, and he (Carter) really wasn’t producing on offense. He wanted a shot, and he’s been pretty good.”
At 355 pounds, he’s still not ready to play 40 snaps a game on defense, and the Buckeyes won’t need or ask him to. Carter is still behind senior Garrett Goebel and sophomore Joel Hale at the nose tackle position—a spot designed for big, strong “hole-fillers,” as Carter would describe himself.
“Luke Fickell, back in December, was already politicking for him on defense,” Meyer acknowledged.
“He saw what a lot of 3-4 teams are going to a big, wide-bodied guy who can take up gaps and let your linebackers run free.”
The Buckeyes play a hybrid 3-4 type defense with the Leo (Viper)—in this case John Simon—being a guy who can put his hand down as a defensive end or stand up as a linebacker.
If he can get himself down to a solid playing weight, Carter would give the Buckeyes a true two-gap player at the nose tackle position, which could then allow Fickell to add more speed at some other positions in the front seven.
It would be especially nice with Hankins being asked to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, but Carter still has a long way to go before he will be force in the trenches.
“Once he starts learning the techniques and the moves, he is going to be really valuable,” sophomore Michael Bennett said.
“He’s enormous and he’s strong. You see some of the starting O-linemen against him and they can’t move him. But he doesn’t know what he’s doing yet. He needs to learn the D-line and he’ll be great for us.”
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