10 Questions for the Offense

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Last updated: 03/28/2012 3:13 PM
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Ten Questions Facing the Ohio State Defense Heading Into Spring Practice
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Yesterday we took a look at Ten Questions Facing the Ohio State Offense, so now it's time to give the same treatment to the defense.

Despite being known for his offense, Urban Meyer attacked the 2012 recruiting class with rebuilding the Ohio State defense in mind. If for no other reason, this tells you that Meyer and his staff have plenty of questions about the 2012 version of the Silver Bullets.

Even though Meyer's offense has long been the talk of Buckeye fans since his hiring, he has always fielded some outstanding defenses. In other words, he knows what he is looking for in a defense. The question now becomes whether or not he will like what he sees when Spring practice starts today.

Although, that's not the only question that faces the coaches this Spring—at least not for our purposes, anyway. We happen to have ten more.

1. Will a third cornerback emerge?

The Buckeyes return starting cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Travis Howard, but lost third corner Dominic Clarke when he was dismissed from the program in January. Also booted was fellow cornerback Pee Wee Gambrell, which makes this position rather thin at the moment. Rising sophomore Doran Grant will likely assume the third cornerback role initially. Adam Griffin will also get a look, as may early enrollee Tyvis Powell, though Powell is likely a safety. The Buckeyes will add two more cornerbacks in the Fall, and if the staff isn't comfortable with Grant, then it will be an all out brawl for the third cornerback spot once Fall practices begin.

2. Will Urban Meyer find an edge pass rusher?

We know the coaching staff's opinion of their returning pass rushers based on the way they went after pass rushers in the 2012 recruiting class. In other words, they believed them to be lacking. With Nathan Williams out for the Spring, the lone known pass rusher on the defensive line is John Simon. Obviously, he is not enough. With tons of snaps available this Spring at one of the defensive end spots, will somebody emerge? Or will the Buckeyes have to wait until the Fall when Williams returns and five-star prospects Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington arrive?

3. Will the Buckeyes need freshmen linebackers?

Ohio State returns three linebackers from last season with starting experience. Etienne Sabino, Storm Klein and Ryan Shazier all started at different times last season, but that doesn't mean they are the incumbents. The linebackers struggled last season, and if they continue to struggle through the Spring, then the depth chart that Urban Meyer wants written down may not have ink taken to it until sometime late in August. Rising sophomore Curtis Grant had all of the accolades last year, but he was never ready to step in. Will the Spring show him to be one of the best three linebackers? The Buckeyes will have two early enrollees in Luke Roberts and Joshua Perry participating this Spring, and three more freshmen will join them in the Fall. Will one of these five freshmen need to see the field in order for the linebackers to perform where Meyer wants them to?

4. Is John Simon strictly an outside guy now?

With Simon dropping at least ten pounds from last year's listed weight of 270 pounds, it would appear that an already undersized guy on the inside has finally shrunk his way out of the scrum of the interior line. Simon played well at the Leo spot last year, but was just a step or two away from making twice as many plays. Being lighter and faster this year should help him make those plays this season. Still, will there be a desire to slide him inside on passing downs in order to get guys like Noah Spence or Adolphus Washington on the field opposite Nathan Williams?

5. Will the top three safeties stay the top three safeties?

C.J. Barnett started all season last year, and he can safely assume to be entrenched in Urban Meyer's starting lineup as well. Orhian Johnson and Christian Bryant split starts at the other safety spot last year, and even though Johnson only started four times last season, there are some who think he ended the season playing better than Bryant, who was inconsistent for much of 2011. Will Bryant be found to be inconsistent again this Spring? Will Johnson? Will somebody new emerge, like Ron Tanner or Corey Brown?

6. Can this team tackle?

This is almost the only question that matters for the defense. What good is shedding blocks or getting penetration if the ball carrier ends up slipping through a defense's grasp? If the Buckeyes aren't any better at tackling this Spring, there are going to be some harsh words spoken by Urban Meyer, and replacements will continue to roll in until the issue is fixed.

7. Which defensive end starts out opposite John Simon?

With Nathan Williams out for the Spring, the Buckeyes are going to need a defensive end on the other side of Simon in order to fill out their depth chart. Will the staff be looking for more of a run-stopping strongside defensive end, or are they looking to go with speed instead of size? If Simon is the strongside defensive end in this scenario, then that would leave candidates such as Steve Miller, J.T. Moore, and incoming freshman Se'Von Pittman, who has now enrolled in school. If Simon is the pass-rushing specialist, then you are looking at the likes of Michael Bennett, Adam Bellamy, Kenny Hayes or Chase Farris on the strong side. Though some of those four may also end up on the inside at defensive tackle.

8. With the talk of improving the defensive speed, will the ability to stop the run decrease?

Generally, in order to improve team speed you have to decrease team size. However, when you choose to decrease team size, you still have to be able to stop the running games in the Big Ten. Power running teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State and (maybe one day) Michigan aren't going away, so neither can Ohio State's ability to be stout against the run. With so many new bodies on "old" players, the coaches will get a good look at whether the front four will be able to hold up at the point of attack, or if they'll need to add some bulk prior to the Fall.

9. Will Ryan Shazier's trajectory continue?

Shazier closed out 2011 as one of the team's best defensive players, and one of its few playmakers. Heading into his sophomore season, even more will be expected of him now that he will be in the starting lineup from the get go. Will he continue to improve, or will he fall victim to the dreaded sophomore slump? Even though his position coach has changed, Luke Fickell as the linebackers coach is plenty familiar with Shazier's ability, so there shouldn't be much of any learning curve.

10. Can this defense be trusted to be aggressive?

Everybody wants their defense to be aggressive at the point of attack, but a defense can only be as aggressive as their second line of defense allows them to be. If blitzes are sent and they generally end up being bad for the Buckeye defense, then they won't be able to play aggressively. As mentioned above, the tackling was atrocious last year. If it is again, that will also take away much of the coaches' planned aggression.

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