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April 8, 2011

Early Spring Depth Chart: Defense

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There is never a spring that goes by where all the questions are answered on the depth chart heading into the following season. This year, however, Ohio State could be in the midst of the most anticipated spring in the history of the Jim Tressel era.

Unlike the offensive side of the ball where Ohio State is going to need to find guys for the first five games to replace veteran talent, the defensive side of the ball is looking for permanent replacements. That's because the Buckeyes lost an immense amount of talent from last year's defense.

Because we got to take in quite a bit of spring practice, we provide a projection of next year's depth chart based on what we saw. Of course, this isn't the official depth chart, but it is how we feel it could play out based on what we witnessed.

The Front Seven
LEO
Nathan Williams
Solomon Thomas (suspended)
David Durham
With the departure of Cameron Heyward, Ohio State is going to need someone on the defensive line to step up and replace part of his production. The ideal man for the job is Williams, who has made a name for himself as Ohio State's relentless pass rusher. With Thomas suspended for the first five games of next season, Williams' role on this team just got that much more important. He's the bottom line starter at LEO, but the question still remains whether or not he can take it to that next level. We'll find out.
DT
Garrett Goebel
Darryl Baldwin
Joel Hale
The defensive line is constantly rotated under defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and Goebel is a guy that has made consistent strides since joining the Buckeyes. Though never claiming a starting role, Goebel has made the most of his limited opportunity and now is on the verge of being one of Ohio State's most counted on defensive linemen. There are alos two very young players in Baldwin and Hale who hope to make the jump into the rotation in the early stages of their careers.
NT
Johnathan Hankins
Adam Bellamy
Evan Blankenship
Last season there wasn't a person out there that could have called Hankins as a guy that would contribute early and often as a freshman. A tad out of shape getting to Ohio State, Hankins lost weight and became one of Ohio State's top reserve defensive linemen. With Dexter Larmimore gone, Hankins and Bellamy will get plenty of reps playing nose tackle this fall. Hankins, however, could be the favorite to win the starting spot if he is in ideal playing shape.
DE
John Simon
Melvin Fellows
Stewart Smith
If Williams isn't going to be the guy that steps in and becomes the leader of Ohio State's defensive front, then Simon would certainly be up for the job. Coming into Columbus as an underrated 3-star recruit, Simon couldn't be any more of a pleasant surprise for the Buckeyes defense. Perhaps the most physically imposing player on the defensive line, Simon has become one of the brighter pieces on this Buckeyes defense. Fellows will get reps, but Simon will be all over the place in 2011.
SLB
Etienne Sabino
Tony Jackson
Jonathan Newsome
Last season was supposed to be Sabino's year to finally crack the starting lineup and become the reliable linebacker Ohio State's coaching staff was looking for. Last spring while Andrew Sweat was out with an injury to his knee, Sabino seemed to finally be in the spot to do so. However, Sabino was beat out in the fall by Sweat and took a redshirt year to continue to develop. Sabino has great size and speed so if he has developed the mental part of the game, he should be a solid player for Ohio State.
MLB
Storm Klein
Etienne Sabino
Jordan Whiting
Klein started his career at Ohio State in the two deep, so it seemed as if he was on the fast track to a productive career as a Buckeye. Still relatively inexperienced, Ohio State could be counting on him this season after saying goodbye to Ross Homan and Brian Rolle after last year. Klein will likely come out of the game when Ohio State is in its usual nickel package, but he seems to be in the position to make a jump as a steady contributor. Ohio State likes to have the three best linebackers on the field regardless of position, guys like Dorian Bell and Tony Jackson are getting valuable reps, too.
WLB
Andrew Sweat
Dorian Bell
Scott McVey
Last season Sabino was the guy that was supposed to be the newcomer in the starting lineup at linebacker. And Sweat, who was recovering from major knee surgery, didn't even partake in contact drills during spring football. After beating Sabino out for the spot in fall camp, Sweat returns to the linebacking corps this season as the most experienced out of all of them at the position. Many expect Sweat will step up and have a very productive season in his final year.


Defensive Backfield
BCB
Travis Howard
Bradley Roby
Taylor Rice
Both cornerback spots were up for grabs with the departures of Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence after last year. Howard, the clear No. 3 at the position at the Sugar Bowl, was the favorite to take over the top spot this season. So far this spring, it looks as if Howard has gone up and grabbed the spot, having perhaps the most impressive day of any player on the team in the first practice session the media was invited to watch. Howard, who made big plays last year, now looks to be the top guy at cornerback for the Buckeyes.
FCB
Dominic Clarke
Dionte Allen
Donnie Evege
One of the more exciting position battles going into next year is at the cornerback slot. Though Clarke has taken most, if not all, of the reps with the first team in the spring, Florida State transfer Dionte Allen is right behind him. Not only have mistakes been made by Clarke that has drawn attention from the coaching staff, Allen had an impressive day when the media was allowed in early this week. It will be a battle all the way to the end. Evege, the No. 3 CB, could be out for an extended period of time after suffering from a major knee injury in practice this week.
FS
Orhian Johnson
Zach Domicone
Jeremy Cash
Johnson was going to be on the outside looking in on the safety position last year, but an injury to Barnett opened up the door for some major playing time. That experience gained, though there were some rough patches, are enough to see him back in the starting lineup this spring after Ohio State waved goodbye to <b>Jermale Hines</b> after last season. But with the "Star" position still to be determined, there could be a competition waiting for him this fall with some of the guys repping in the defensive backfield while Ohio State has its nickel package on the field.
SS
C.J. Barnett
Jamie Wood
Ron Tanner
Though he has been wearing the blue jersey to signify injury this spring, Barnett has moved right back into a starting spot in the defensive backfield. Last season he beat out Johnson for the starting spot, but a major knee injury held him back from playing his entire freshman year. Barnett is a guy that packs a big punch and if healthy could be one of the biggest hitters on the team. He hasn't participated in the team scrimmage drills in the spring, but the staff could be working him slowly toward that soon.
Star
Christian Bryant
Nate Oliver
Tyler Moeller
With the "Star" position, otherwise known as Ohio States nickelback, you have two players that are coming off injuries from a year ago. Repping with the first team in the nickel package thus far this spring is Bryant, who suffered an infection in his foot that made him miss the majority of his freshman season. Then of course you have Moeller, who had surgery to repaire a torn pec muscle. Moeller will likely win the job on the fall, but Bryant could be a candidate to move into competition for one of the starting safety spots, so position battles could look a tad different in the fall.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.



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