Next Big Thing - Defense

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Last updated: 07/20/2011 1:40 AM

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The Next Big Thing — Defense
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s defense is at a strange moment of transition heading into the 2011 season.

The Buckeyes have been loaded with big names on that side of the ball for years, but this season will be a bit of a rebuilding year, at least when it comes to star power.

Think about it. Who are the biggest names on the Ohio State defense?

Nathan Williams? John Simon? Andrew Sweat? Orhian Johnson?

Those are good players, but not exactly Thad Gibson, Malcolm Jenkins or James Laurinaitis.

Sixth-year senior Tyler Moeller might be the biggest—and most important —name on the defense and he has started a total of four games in his collegiate career.

The fact is, these guys are not Cam Heyward, Chimdi Chekwa, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan or Jermale Hines, all of whom the Buckeyes must replace from last year’s defense.

Fear not, Ohio State has plenty of talent in the on-deck circle; the only question is when they will be ready to step up to the plate.

We take a look at a group of defensive players who could be “the next big thing” in Columbus.

John Simon
Photo by Jim Davidson
John Simon

DL John Simon — Simon was a starter on the defensive line last season, so people are familiar with his name, but the door is open now for him to become a star. There is no guarantee Simon will ever put up big numbers, but the Buckeyes need him to produce at a high level, especially now that he is playing more strongside defensive end.


Johnathan Hankins
Photo by Dan Harker
Jonathan Hankins

DT Johnathan Hankins — It would be hard to find a more highly talked about Ohio State player this off-season than Hankins. The ‘Big Hank’ has drawn praise from offensive and defensive players alike and Cam Heyward compared him to ‘Big Daddy’ Wilkinson last season. That right there tells you how good this kid could be.

DL Michael Bennett — The Buckeyes landed a nice crop of young defensive linemen in the class of 2011, and it starts with Bennett. Though he broke an arm in the U.S. Army All-American game, Bennett will be ready to start fall camp and he could be a contender to sneak into the mix on the defensive line. He needs to add weight and strength if he’s going to play inside, but Bennett is exactly the type of versatile player Jim Heacock loves.

DE Steve Miller — Another member of the 2011 class, Miller has a high profile coming to Ohio State. He was a 4-star prospect and an Under Armour All-American who could be the next great player in a long line of Leo’s that includes both Vernon Gholston and Thad Gibson.

DE Kenny Hayes — The only defensive end rated higher than Miller in the class of 2011 was Hayes, a product of Toledo Whitmer. According to, he was the No. 4 player in Ohio and the No. 7 defensive end prospect in the country, which is impressive considering how early in the process he committed to Ohio State.

LB Ryan Shazier — Unlike the previous three freshmen on this list, Shazier enrolled in the winter and took part in spring practice with the Buckeyes. He battled some hamstring issues, but showed flashes of brilliance at the Sam linebacker position. With Sweat moving to Will linebacker, Dorian Bell being suspended and Jonathan Newsome’s status in question, Shazier could move in and steal a starting spot on the defense with a good fall camp.

LB Curtis Grant — Shazier might have a leg up by coming in early, but the guy everyone is waiting to see this fall is 5-star linebacker Curtis Grant. The No. 1-rated outside backer in the country, Grant has the size and speed to be a star at the college level. He will likely settle in at Will linebacker, but could also play inside at Mike.

Travis Howard
Photo by Jim Davidson
Travis Howard

CB Travis Howard — Maybe the biggest star in waiting on the defense this fall, Howard has all but locked down the No. 1 corner spot following the departures of Chekwa and Devon Torrence. He is long and athletic with good speed and great nature instincts at the position. His teammates have called him the next big thing, which makes him perfect for this list.

CB Doran Grant — Howard is a redshirt junior, which means he only has two years left to become a star. Grant will have 4-5 years and there are few doubters when it comes to his potential. Despite his size, Grant is physical but athletic. He has a knack for the football and could even be used as a return man.

DB Christian Bryant — Moeller’s return means Bryant will likely have to find a new position—at least for the 2011 season—but this versatile defensive back could play almost anywhere. He came in as a corner, but his hitting ability makes him a real candidate to challenge Johnson and C.J. Barnett for a starting safety spot this fall. 

The Next Big Thing - Offense

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