Shazier, Hankins Lead Mangled OSU Defense Into Battle
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Christian Bryant didn’t practice last week.
Photo by Dan Harker
Johnathan Hankins had to come out of the Purdue game on three separate occasions.
Joshua Perry has a bulky brace on his right knee, Bradley Roby is playing with a hurt shoulder and C.J. Barnett rushed to get back from a high ankle sprain that kept him out of three games.
John Simon has been playing through about four or five injuries this season, Michael Bennett missed the start of the year with a groin issue and of course Nathan Williams is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury that eventually required microfracture surgery.
Starting linebacker Etienne Sabino is out with a broken leg and fellow senior Storm Klein has been fighting through a bulging disc in his back, which might explain why Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said his defense is “on fumes” heading into this week’s game against Penn State.
“This could be one of the first times where I don’t think it will be a full 70 on that plane (to State College),” Meyer said of his travel roster.
“Just because you don’t have 70 players (ready to go).”
The Buckeyes lost another key special teams player on Saturday when freshman De’van Bogard went down with a season-ending knee injury. Fellow freshman Najee Murray is already out for the year and senior safety Jamie Wood is having his second shoulder surgery in 10 months this week.
He may never play the game again, which is something Zach Domicone thought after his second knee surgery back in January.
Sabino is still out with the broken leg he suffered against Nebraska, Corey Brown is battling an injury this week and just about every other starter on Ohio State’s defense has either missed an entire game or at least a few series because of injury.
“There’s a lot of guys just banged up,” said Bryant, who graded out over 95 percent against Purdue this past week despite the fact he was too injured to practice much leading up to the game.
“Everybody’s probably playing at about 90 percent right now.”
Meyer would take that percentage in a heartbeat heading into the last four games of the season, but in major college football, nobody is really that healthy this time of year.
“It’s week nine in the season, so I don’t think anybody in America is (100 percent),” said Barnett, who still wears and ankle brace on his left foot.
“I think everybody is pretty beat up.”
That’s certainly true across the board, but the Buckeyes are the only team in American with eight wins right now – not because they’re the only undefeated team in the country but because they’re the only undefeated team that hasn’t had a bye week yet.
Meyer has his starting fullback playing middle linebacker, and defensive end Nathan Williams is playing some outside linebacker, despite the fact he missed the trip to Indiana with a concussion.
Even the guys who aren’t injured, which probably means they haven’t played much this year, have heavy legs after the first eight weeks of the season.
“I feel like right now it’s just a grind. It’s the last four games of the season,” said Hankins, who had to come out of the Purdue game after taking a shot to the head during a tackle out on the perimeter.
“Some guys are tired. So I feel like we’re going to have to grind it out, work hard in practice so it will be easier in the games. We’ve got a tough one ahead of us Saturday, and I feel like we’re working to it.”
According to teammates, Hankins and Roby are two of the more beat up players on the defense. Cornerback Travis Howard has been battling stingers all season, backup corner Armani Reeves has been out with an ankle injury and linebacker Ryan Shazier has been gutting it out with all sorts of bumps and bruises that come with playing linebacker the way he does.
“You’ve just got to love the game,” Barnett said of what drives a guy to fight through the kind of injuries this defense has faced.
“I don’t think anybody comes out here, with the risks that you take of getting hurt, if you really don’t love to play. There is always a big chance of getting hurt, but you take that risk to play the game you love.”
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