When They Have the Ball
By V.R. BryantPublished September 1, 2012
With all the fanfare surrounding the arrival of Urban Meyer and his famed spread offense, one might be concerned that the defense was being overlooked. Fortunately, there’s simply too much talent to ignore, and the defense may in the end be what gets this team its glory in a season that ends one way or another at home versus Michigan.
There’s no iconic star, no Andy Katzenmoyer or Mike Doss or James Laurinaitis that’s likely to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. But there is a healthy mix of veteran leadership and young hunger, and the guidance of defensive coordinator Luke Fickell who is back doing what he belongs – for now. By position, here’s a look at Fickell’s defense.
This is the anchor. This is the heart. Senior and two-time captain John Simon headlines a rotation of talent that features some established, household names, and some young pieces with tons of upside. Simon is a fantastic athletic specimen, and at a svelte 260 pounds, has the speed to take tackles on the edge and get to opposing quarterbacks. He’s accompanied by junior Johnathan Hankins, a 317-pound tackle who not only eats up space in the middle, but is also capable of rushing the passer. Nathan Williams returns from injury to provide additional quickness on the outside. The top names are indeed talented, but it’s the depth here that is most encouraging. Garrett Goebel, Steve Miller, Michael Bennett, Chris Carter, and Joel Hale all figure to be in the picture – that’s eight guys with noted ability and experience. Factor in the incredible freshman class headlined by Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, and the sky is the limit for this unit.
This, by contrast, is probably the thinnest position for the Buckeyes. Etienne Sabino is the lone senior of note, and he will work to step into a true leader’s role after three years of somewhat quiet consistency. Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant, a pair of sophomores, should see the lion’s share of starters’ minutes on the outside. Shazier flies around the field and can really put a stick on the ballcarrier; Grant won the job in the middle even before 2011 starter Storm Klein was temporarily dismissed from the team. Other names to know: redshirt frosh Conner Crowell, and incoming freshmen Luke Roberts and Josh Perry. They’re young, these guys, but they’ve got lots of speed and intensity. If Sabino can be a source of calm and focus, he and his cohorts could do a lot of damage – especially with such a disruptive D-line ahead of them.
There’s more stability here, with (basically) all four starters returning. Senior Travis Howard and sophomore Bradley Roby will remain the two starting corners, while sophomore Doran Grant should find a way on the field a measurable amount, as he did a year ago. Grant did get a little banged up in practice after working with the first unit; you can probably consider him and Howard to be neck-and-neck. Depth at corner isn’t phenomenal, but neither Roby or Howard has shown much propensity for injury (knock on wood). Safety, on the other hand, is chock full of experience. Christian Bryant and C. J. Barnett reprise their roles as headhunters – both guys established a healthy reputation for laying big hits on opposing receivers, and will provide intimidation over the middle and coverage deep. Backing them up: Corey Brown and Orhian Johnson, both of whom have significant experience.