The Curious Case of Christian Bryant
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After watching the development of Christian Bryant last fall, it’s hard to believe there are 11 better players on Ohio State’s defense heading into the 2011 season.
Photo by Dan Harker
He was only a freshman last season, but the coaching staff had no problem throwing Bryant into the mix against teams like Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin in the middle of the season. They weren’t worried about playing him against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl either.
“When I talk about Christian, I talk about a football player,” said safeties coach Paul Haynes, who was recently promoted to co-defensive coordinator.
“I think he's just a raw, natural, instinctive football player. Kind of like Jermale Hines was.”
Not unlike Hines early in his career, Bryant is so unique as a football player that he doesn’t really have a position on the defense. He has three or four of them.
“Christian Bryant fits pretty much wherever. He’s a safety, he’s a corner, he’s a ‘Star.’ He does it all,” junior safety Orhian Johnson said.
“He’s one of the most versatile defensive backs we have and I think that’s an asset to himself and the team.”
Christian Bryant makes a tackle against Illinois.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Although he played both corner and safety in high school, Bryant’s most natural position would appear to be Star—Ohio State’s hybrid fifth defensive back in their nickel package.
That was the position he played last year when senior Tyler Moeller went down with a torn pectoral in week five at Illinois, but Moeller was awarded a sixth year of eligibility.
While it helps the defense tremendously, his return effectively leaves Bryant without a true position in the starting lineup.
“Christian’s a player. Coach (Jim) Heacock always says we’re going to play our best 11 and I think he’s one of our best 11,” Moeller said during the first week of fall camp.
“So I think you’re going to see him on the field. Where you’re going to see him, we’re not sure. He’s a great player and he brings a unique style of play every time he’s on the field. You’ll see him on the field.”
So far this camp, Bryant has been practicing as the second-string “Star” behind Moeller, but also at safety behind Orhian Johnson and C.J. Barnett, both of whom started games for the Buckeyes last season.
“I’m real comfortable at safety,” said Bryant, who plays a lot bigger than his 5-9, 190-pound frame would suggest.
“I’m a ball hawk; I’m a physical guy too. In high school I played safety but I played a lot of corner too, so I feel comfortable at any position.”
Bryant came to Ohio State as a cornerback prospect out of Cleveland’s Glenville High School, but it doesn’t appear like his style of play is best suited for the position at the college level.
The Buckeyes already have redshirt junior Travis Howard penciled in at one starting spot while Dominic Clarke and Bradley Roby battle for the other corner position. That leaves Bryant to challenge Johnson and Barnett for one of the two starting safety spots.
“Each and every day the (defensive backs) come in and we scrap and we fight every day going against the offense,” Bryant said.
“We just keep trying to make positive plays.”
Barnett began last year as the starter next to Hines on the back end of the defense. When he went down with a season-ending knee injury in week two, it was Johnson who stepped in to play the remaining 11 games.
With 50 stops a year ago, the redshirt junior out of St. Petersburg, Fla. is the team’s top returning tackler in 2011. He is also one of the veteran leaders on the back end of a young defense.
That may not be enough to keep Bryant from taking his starting spot, but even it is, it won’t keep the youngster off the field for long.
“I’m a football player. I’ll do whatever it takes to play on this team,” Bryant said.
“I’ll play corner, safety, ‘Star,’ whatever it takes.”
With that attitude, there’s no doubt we’ll see him out there this fall. The questions are when and where.
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