High hopes for DL Spence, Washington

Ohio State defensive lineman Adolphus Washington didn't make a huge impact as a freshman but expect much more production in 2013. Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The brotherly bond, a seemingly perfect partnership didn’t exactly happen instantaneously.

Before moving in together, before competing relentlessly against each other, before becoming potential cornerstones of a rebuilt Ohio State defense, the first thing Adolphus Washington had to do was figure out why exactly Noah Spence was trying to get in contact with him.

“It was like the day he committed, he hit me up on Facebook and I didn’t really think it was Noah Spence,” Washington said. “I was like, ‘How does he know who I am?’

“But since that first day when he hit me up, we talked almost every day, at least every other day, about the future at Ohio State. Now, we’re actually living out that dream.”

In their new reality as starters and potential pass-rushing pillars of a team expected to follow up an unbeaten season by contending for a national title, Washington and Spence have only become closer as time has passed and expectations have soared since their initial introduction.

And while their names might not be that well known across the country yet, both players appear poised to help the nation get acquainted with them this fall thanks largely in part to all the pushing and prodding Spence and Washington demand of each other.

Dynamic athleticism obviously doesn’t hurt their cause, either, and that was clearly why Ohio State chased them as centerpieces for Urban Meyer’s first signing class with the program last year, ultimately playing matchmaker for future roommates.

“Since Day One when we got here, we’ve been like best friends and everything like that,” Spence said. “We compete with each other, we try to make each other better every day. Basically in practice, I’m not going to let him get a sack without me getting one. We just make it a competition every day and it makes us both better.

“It’s always a grind, so we try to push each other -- ‘I’m going to be better than you, I’m going to get more tackles than you this year, I’m going to get more sacks.' "

Neither guy had many opportunities to pile up statistics a year ago, though both provided glimpses of what they might be capable of when given a chance to play.

Spence had the edge in tackles, chipping in 12 over 11 games and swinging field position with his only sack of the year, forcing a loss of 20 yards. Washington was able to get to the quarterback a couple more times than Spence, and he turned in one of the most memorable sacks of the season as he forced a critical fumble in the win over Michigan that clinched the perfect season.

But a veteran group of linemen that included three senior starters and another who declared early for the draft largely limited Spence and Washington to about eight snaps per game last year, according to defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. That total is about to go up dramatically with the deck cleared ahead of them, and the Buckeyes are expecting the rest of the numbers in the box score to soar as well.

“Those are two guys with high expectations,” Fickell said. “They’ve got incredible talent, and they’re really what’s going to help make our defense. The game is won up front.

“We can say all this about these linebackers or the defensive backs and different things ... but the reality is the game is won up front.”

It can also be won with productive training camps, and by all accounts Spence and Washington are having one, dueling for praise from the coaching staff during every rep.

The table is set in the offseason as well, where Spence bulked up by around 25 pounds from his lighter playing weight last season while Washington was letting him know how much he was lifting through gestures since strength coach Mickey Marotti “didn’t like [them] talking to each other in the weight room.”

Victories don’t usually come from spring games, but they both had banner performances there as well as they combined for an eye-catching 7 sacks and completely controlled the line of scrimmage.

Washington had the edge that day, nudging ahead of Spence with 4 takedowns in the backfield. But bragging rights for a single afternoon, if they even happen to be mentioned at all, don’t last long between the two.

There’s always another chance to measure up against each other coming up soon.

“I didn’t give him too much grief about that one,” Washington said. “It was what it was, we both went out there and competed and I just happened to get that extra sack.

“But when we compete against each other, we both get better. I feel like when he gets a sack, the coaches tell him how good he does. So, I feel like I’ve got to go out and get one so they’ll tell both of us how good we are.”

The Buckeyes are counting on having those conversations regularly this fall. Washington and Spence have been planning on producing them since just after the first Facebook message was delivered.