Overview - Defensive Backs

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Last updated: 05/11/2012 12:15 PM
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Football
Final Post-Spring Overview — The Defensive Backs
By Tony Gerdeman

Like the linebackers, the Ohio State defensive backs had their issues last season. Tackling was very little hit and mostly miss in 2011. Coverage break downs weren't unusual, and on more than one occasion "communication" issues were cited for an opponent's big play.

Bradley Roby
Photo by Jim Davidson
Bradley Roby
The Buckeyes started the year without their top cornerback Travis Howard, and were starting two young corners in Bradley Roby and Dominic Clarke. They were both up to the challenge and performed well. Clarke, unfortunately, is no longer on the team, and he would have been a very valuable provider of depth.

If we're lumping nickel back Tyler Moeller in with the linebackers, then the Buckeyes return all of their safeties, and each should be better than they were last year.

With all three safeties and both starting cornerbacks returning, this should be another area of the Ohio State defense that outperforms their 2011 selves.

Overview

The Buckeyes return arguably the top cornerback duo in the conference in Howard and Roby. Roby emerged last year as a redshirt freshman and looks to be the next great Ohio State cornerback. Howard, on the other hand, came into the year with high anticipation, but was unable to live up to the hype.

Doran Grant
Photo by Jim Davidson
Doran Grant

With Clarke's dismissal, the third cornerback is now rising sophomore Doran Grant, who doesn't have the size of Roby or Howard, but has long arms and a quickness that comes in handy.

Rising sophomore Adam Griffin and true freshman Tyvis Powell provide more depth behind Grant, before a pair of highly-thought of freshmen arrive in August.

Ohio State returns six safeties from last season, but the most notable are starters C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant and Orhian Johnson. Barnett was very solid last season, while Bryant and Johnson both had their good and bad moments.

Consistency is what Bryant and Johnson need, and that is certainly what safeties coach Everett Withers will be shooting for.

Preconceived Notion

Based on their performance last season, expectations are high as improvements are expected to be made at both corner and safety. However, how much improvement can be expected from the group of safeties is difficult to say because of the number of mistakes made last season.

It is assumed that they will be able to learn from their mistakes, but it's hard to erase the memories of Bryant and Johnson's occasional struggles last year.

C. J. Barnett
Photo by Jim Davidson
C. J. Barnett

But we must also keep in mind that Bryant was singled out as a playmaker early in his career, and he certainly has a nose for the ball, so the talent is there. He finished third on the team in tackles last year with 68, which was just seven fewer than team-leader C.J. Barnett, and Bryant dealt with injuries and played one fewer game than Barnett. He gets a lot of grief for a handful of missed tackles, miscommunications and dropped interceptions last year, but he was also one of the most productive members of the 2011 defense.

The concern is how often the good sides of both Bryant and Johnson will be seen, as opposed to the bad. Barnett, however, really has no such issues. He is consistent and solid, though we may not be able to expect a ton of big plays from him.

The corners, even though they are planning on playing more off-man coverage than usual, should be fine. History has shown that if you are a starting cornerback at Ohio State, then you must be pretty good.

Recalibration

The cornerbacks performed as expected this spring, though there was still a learning curve with the new coverages being asked. However, Roby and Howard performed like leaders every time we saw them.

Travis Howard
Photo by Jim Davidson
Travis Howard

Doran Grant looks like a suitable third option, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said that he would have no concerns putting Grant in the game if something happened to Roby or Howard.

Adam Griffin and Tyvis Powell provided depth, but at 6'3" and with reinforcements coming in August, you have to wonder if Powell will eventually end up at safety.

The safety situation this spring showed that the Buckeyes have four solid safeties in Bryant, Barnett, Johnson and Corey Brown. Brown was probably the biggest surprise, showing a special knack against the run as a safety and as the backup to Bryant in the nickel.

With Barnett and Bryant starting and Brown and Johnson backing them up, the drop off from first to second-team is not disastrous.

Outlook

No other secondary in the Big Ten returns as much talent from last season as the Buckeyes, and the same can possibly be said about the level of talent as well.

When a defense returns arguably the best pair of cornerbacks as well as the best pair of safeties in the conference, there should certainly be high expectations for that secondary. That's where Ohio State is right now. Expectations are high, but they're high for a reason.

If the Buckeyes don't have the best secondary in their division in 2012, then something went drastically wrong. They will be starting four NFL draft picks, and it's time that everyone started acting like it.

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