FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Ohio State defense has been much maligned this season, especially the pass defense and news of Bradley Roby's health status up in the air is another hit for the Buckeye defense.
Roby appeared to tweak his knee against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game and despite returning to the field for the game the junior defensive back has been limited in practice and his status is uncertain moving forward.
"He's still rehabbing right now," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said on Monday morning. "We're not sure exactly how he'll be, and we kind of take it day to day."
We learned on Sunday that Noah Spence did not fly down with the team and if the defensive end is unable to play the Buckeyes will be without their leading sack artist. The defense was already in a state of flux with Vonn Bell being elevated to the starting nickelback and Tyvis Powell moving into one of the starting safety positions along with C.J. Barnett.
"(Vonn's) been there all year really, just hasn't had an opportunity to play as much," Fickell said. "That's probably one of those things, when you've got some time and you've got a freshman guy that you can get in there and get more reps throughout those three weeks of Bowl prep, it's just a matter of time before that guy continues to get more and more playing time for us. I think this will probably be the first time you'll see him get as much playing time as we like."
Barnett sees a lot of upside out of the pair of young players.
"Vonn (Bell) brings a little something different," Barnett said. "He's like a little jack rabbit. He's a little different. And Tyvis (Powell), he has a lot of range as a safety."
The secondary could see the return of one of its starters for the bowl game but even if Christian Bryant does see playing time, it won't be on a grand scale.
"Maybe in a small box," Fickell said. "I heard him say yesterday, 'if they get the ball inside the 5 yard line, I think I can do it, guys. I think I can stay in this small box here and not have to go back very far and at least throw my head in there.' You love that attitude, but he would do nothing but hurt himself and probably hurt himself at some point."
For now the Buckeyes are just having to go into the game with the 'next man up' attitude and that means Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller will both be under the microscope as they try and fill Spence's role in the defense as the Buckeyes attempt to derail one of the nation's most potent offensive attacks in Clemson.
"Steve's been around for a while," Fickell said "The thing for Steve is he hasn't really been playing that spot throughout the year. He's been playing more of the end spot. He's going to have to be thrust into a situation where he's going to have to go over there and learn, and he's done it before, but he's going to have a little bit of baptism by fire here the last week to get some more reps and see what he does understand. It's going to make us maybe have to limit some of the things we do.
"As for Jamal, Jamal's been a guy that's been repping there. The thing that's tough at times is, you know, Noah's one of those guys that doesn't get tired. Sometimes you say you like to sub your D-line, you like to play guys, and you do, but there's a few guys that don't get tired. That's one of the great things about what he's done for us, but it's one of the things that hurts you in the development of the guy that might play behind him a little bit because they don't get as many reps."
The Buckeyes are not looking for excuses and want to silence the doubters with results on Friday night.
"It's a part of the game," Fickell said "We've got to deal with it. We can't dwell on it. We can't whine and complain about it. Next man up."