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John DeShazier: Ohio State leads the way at NFL Combine

Buckeyes have 14 players participating

Photos from Wednesday at the 2016 NFL Combine.

Indianapolis – How good, deep and talented were the Ohio State teams of 2014 and '15, the former, the 2015 College Football Playoff national champions and the latter, a 12-1 team that barely missed out on a second consecutive playoff berth?

They were 14-players-at-the-NFL-Combine good, 15 if you count a former player who was dismissed from the program and played elsewhere last season.

By far, Ohio State leads the number of invitees to the Combine, where drills will be conducted this week at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Buckeyes are represented in every position group except kicker, punter and long snapper, and more than half of them have been projected to be selected in the first two days of the NFL Draft.

"I think you've got to recruit really well," said offensive tackle Taylor Decker, a 6-foot-7, 320-pounder who was a projected mid- to late-first round pick last year, but returned to play his senior season for the Buckeyes.

"Guys have to be blessed with some ability, but that's just the start," Decker said. "You've got to be able to develop players and to develop a culture that doesn't allow mediocrity. We demand excellence, we have a tradition of excellence and a culture of it and that's kind of what I think all these players getting invited is a testament to.

"When you have really good players who are competing against each other and want to get better each day, that's kind of one of the products you get."

Decker, a senior who made 42 consecutive starts, including 28 at left tackle, was able to hone his skills against elite defensive linemen every season at Ohio State.

He worked against Adolphus Washington, a three-year starter who posted 13.5 sacks in his 31 starts. And Michael Bennet, who started 28 games in 2013 and '14, and had 13.5 sacks in those two years.

There was John Simon, whose 20.5 career sacks were registered by the time he finished in '12, and John Hankins, who started 25 games in '11 and '12 and entered the NFL draft in '13.

More recently, the rushers included Noah Spence, who started 13 of his first 24 games at Ohio State and produced nine sacks, but played last year at Eastern Kentucky after being declared permanently ineligible by the Big Ten because of a second failed drug test. And Joey Bosa, perhaps the top defensive lineman in the upcoming draft, who had 18.5 sacks and 37 tackles for loss in the last two seasons.

"That can't be understated," Decker said. "Getting to play against a guy like (Bosa), and a guy like Noah Spence for two years – and even Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennet, John Simon, John Hankins – I got to play against a lot of really good guys, more than I ever would have saw reps in a game against somebody like that.

"Joey is an incredible player. He's really complete, plays the run really well, he's strong, quick off the ball, he's good with his hands – he's such a complete player. So if you do something wrong he's going to figure out what it is and expose you. He made me a lot better player.

"Noah is definitely different than Joey. They're both great pass rushers but I think Noah, he can run for days. Even in team runs when we were back in school, it was just easy for him, he'd run with the linebackers and he'd be beating them. He's really quick off the ball and he's got a really high motor."

Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott has a comparable motor, and it helped make him the top-rated back in the draft, another likely first-day selection.

"Zekes' definitely one of my favorite guys," Decker said. "A ton of personality – he was just fun to block for. I would say the No. 1 thing is, regardless of what he was doing on a play, he was going to go full speed.

"Some of my favorite plays of his are him blocking people, or cutting people. He's going a million miles an hour and whoever gets in front of him is going to get hit. He loves it."

Almost as much, the NFL is intrigued with prospects from Ohio State this year, 14 of whom are among the 332 invited players at the Combine, players who helped the Buckeyes return to elite status.

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