Spring Risers: Defense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is set to release his first-ever post-spring depth chart this afternoon. Meyer and his coaches met with the players individually after the conclusion of his first spring practice in Columbus.
Some players heard a lot of good things from Meyer and his assistants during those sit-downs, while others are probably having second thoughts about their opportunity to see the field come fall.
We’re going to take a look at both groups, but let’s start with some of Spring Risers on defense. These are the guys who really excelled over the 15 practices in April, setting themselves up for good things in the fall if they can continue their positive momentum over the summer.
1. DE John Simon (6-2, 260, Sr.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
This one doesn’t even seem right considering Simon was one of the top—if not the top—players on Ohio State’s defense a year ago. He had a starting position locked up before he ever stepped foot on the practice field this spring, but Simon has taken his game to another level since the Gator Bowl.
He has always been a dedicated worker and ultimate football junky, but Simon had his new head coach gushing all over the place this spring. Meyer even dropped the term “Tebow-ish” when talking about Simon, and it appears the senior from Youngstown could be on the verge of taking his game from good to great this fall.
2. LB Curtis Grant (6-3, 235, So.)
Photo by Dan Harker
While Simon makes the top spot on our list, the top riser during spring camp had to be linebacker Curtis Grant. Everyone, and we mean everyone, was waiting to see what Meyer and Luke Fickell would do with the linebacker position after last season. Losing Andrew Sweat didn’t leave them with many options, but Grant emerged as a potential candidate to solidify things in the middle.
Senior Storm Klein will be in the mix during fall camp after missing much of spring with an injury, but Meyer may have tipped his hand when he said that Ohio State needs Grant to be good if they are going to be good defensively this season.
3. DL Michael Bennett (6-3, 277, So.)
Photo by Dan Harker
Bennett was another guy who was expected to be in the rotation on the defensive line this fall, but it only took the sophomore from Centerville about three days to crack the starting group.
If Nathan Williams isn’t healthy by Ohio State’s opener on Sept. 1—and that seems likely at this point—Bennett should be in the starting lineup for Meyer’s first game at Ohio State. He showed some good promise as a freshman last fall, but looked like a very improved player during spring camp.
4. CB Doran Grant (5-11, 188, So.)
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes knew they were going to have some depth issues at corner when Meyer dismissed Dominic Clarke and DerJuan Gambrell from the team in January, but Grant did an excellent job of filling that No. 3 corner spot during the spring.
New cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said he would feel completely comfortable with Grant as one of his starting corners, which is huge considering they don’t have many other options. It’s also critical for them to find at least one future starter at corner this fall. Travis Howard is in his last year, and Bradley Roby could be a candidate for early departure if he puts together an All-American season.
5. DL Chase Farris (6-4, 286, rFr.)
Farris is the first guy on this list who came out of nowhere this spring. The second-year player out of Elyria was barely healthy enough to dress for most games last year, and didn’t seem like a guy who would be in the mix up front this fall.
Things look a little different after spring. We still don’t know exactly how the incoming guys are going to impact the rotation for Mike Vrabel up front, but Farris did enough during the spring to at least put him in the conversation. Moving inside to tackle proved to be the right move, because he is quick enough to get pressure up the middle.
6. LB Connor Crowell (6-1, 233, rFr.)
We didn’t get to see enough of Crowell in the spring to start thinking big things for the youngster out of Maryland just yet, but showed some flashes at middle linebacker. Remember, this was a kid who redshirted last year because of injury, but Crowell actually got to play some Mike linebacker with the first-team defense when Grant went down late in camp.
There are three talented linebackers on their way to Columbus this summer, so we could see Fickell shuffle things up at the linebacker spot this fall. Freshman Luke Roberts was playing Will linebacker in the spring, but he is probably more of a traditional Mike linebacker. How that effects Crowell remains to be seen, but he is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
7. CB Adam Griffin (5-8, 180, rSo.)
Maybe the most surprising guy to make our list, Griffin had himself a very nice spring playing under Coombs for the first time. Archie’s kid finally got his first real chance to play with the second-team defense because of Ohio State’s lack of depth at corner, and he made the most of it.
The third-year player out of Columbus DeSales still doesn’t have the size it traditionally takes to play corner at Ohio State, but he’s a football player. He showed some flashes in the spring, and managed to hold freshman Tyvis Powell at bay for most of camp. With Armani Reeves headed to Columbus this summer, Griffin’s time in the two-deep could be limited, but he may be ready to emerge as a standout on special teams in 2012.
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