Last season was interesting to say the least on the defensive side of the ball. They really bought into the bend, but don’t break mentality and while it didn’t come back to bite them in the rear end (that whole 12-0 season proves that), head coach Urban Meyer couldn’t have been happy with the results.
So, in 2013 only four players that started last season return. That could be a bad thing or a good thing depending on how you look at it and how the newcomers at the starting spots respond to the challenges that will be presented throughout the season.
In fact, some have even taken to suggesting this defense will be better off without all those missing parts – including an entirely new defensive line. Why do they say that? Perhaps it’s the insane recruiting classes Urban Meyer has brought to Columbus the past two years.
Will youth be served, or will it get served in 2013? Let us introduce you to the 2013 Ohio State defense….
Replacing all four starters on the line is never fun and it has to give any team pause. I don’t care if you’ve got four Jadeveon Clowney’s on the line in waiting – something is going to be different.
Question is, can this team actually be better off with a new front? It’s possible and a lot of that potential rests on the massive shoulders of Adolphus Washington (6-3, 292lbs.) and the speed of Noah Spence as defensive ends. Both are sophomores who saw limited action last season and both were stars of the spring. They bring different things to the table, but both work well together to create havoc.
Helping those two out will be junior Michael Bennett and Tommy Schutt as defensive tackles. Schutt has a ton of potential and Bennett is easily the most experienced of all the tackle options on the line, having made 11 tackles and recorded 1 sack a season ago.
The tackle spot overall is in good shape with a ton of talented depth and potential there in junior Joel Hale (6-4, 309lbs.) and sophomore Chris Carter (6-4, 341lbs.), but outside it has to be youth being served with the likes of star recruit Joey Bosa and Tyquan Lewis names to really look out for in camp and during the season.
Doesn’t it seem like Ryan Shazier has been in the Big Ten forever? As he enters just his junior year in the league he’s got to be a leader on a defense that is devoid of a lot of experience. Of course it helps that he is one of the best at his position as well (No. 7 in our Preseason Top 25 Players list) following a high quality sophomore season.
Now the question is if he’ll have the help he’ll need around him?
The biggest question is at middle linebacker where junior Curtis Grant is facing put up or shut up time. Just two years ago he was a massively important part of the 2011 recruiting class, yet the production hasn’t been there – even in a limited role – to allow fans and coaches to trust he can do it just yet. Expect a big time challenge from Camren Williams, a true sophomore who’s shown in limited action on defense and as a key player on special teams that he can be a sure tackler. Also be on the lookout for Mike Mitchell – one of the bigger recruits in the 2013 class. He’s got the size, coming in at 6-4 and 225lbs.
Opposite of Shazier is likely 6-4, 243lbs. sophomore Joshua Perry, who was a special teamer last season and saw time at linebacker as well. He made five tackles and his potential is great. If something should happen look to another sophomore in Craig Fada, a walk-on who is a great special teams contributor who can also be a bit more help in the linebacker corp.
This is where the most potential and the most intrigue exist. Of course we all know about the trouble Bradley Roby (No. 10 in our Preseason Top 25 polls) got himself in and it remains to be seen exactly what will happen to him,
In his absence it’s been true freshman Gareon Conley taking over duty with the No. 1 unit, so should a lengthy suspension happen there will be a plan and a good player in place.
However, the real strength of this team lies in the safety spots with seniors C.J. Barnett (56 tackles, 1INT, 5PBU’s in 2012) and Christian Bryant (No. 25 on our Preseason Top 25 list) at strong and free safety respectively. Barnett is a massive hitter (perhaps the most feared in the B1G) and Bryant isn’t a slouch either in that department, but is much more of a rangy player, breaking up 17 passes last season in addition to his 71 tackles.
Opposite of the Roby/Conley combo should be Doran Grant, who will take over after a 19 tackle, 1 sack, 1 pick performance last season in a backup role. Sophomore Armani Reeves is going to be a player to watch at the field side position as well and will backup Grant to start the season.
What will be really interesting to watch is how the likes of special incoming freshman like Eli Apple, Cameron Burrows and Vonn Bell grow during camp. With the experience in front of them one has to wonder exactly what their roles will be.
Questions to answer in camp:
Is what we saw in spring real? What we mean by that is the defensive line looked really good this spring and it’s part of why a lot of people are picking these guys as the clear frontrunner in the Big Ten title race and a national championship contender. However, there’s a big difference between the spring game and live bullets flying during the season. The talent is there, but experience can’t be replaced that easily, right?
Will freshman class live up to hype early on? Names like Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell grabbed headlines as part of the nationally great OSU 2013 recruiting class, question is… Do they actually show up on the field in 2013? Fall camp will tell us a lot about exactly how ready they are to contribute on a defense that has all of four starters.