Most Important Buckeyes: No. 12
By Rob Ogden
C. J. Barnett
Photo by Jim Davidson
For the second-straight year, senior safety C.J. Barnett is a Jim Thorpe Award candidate, and for the second straight year, Barnett comes in at No. 12 on our list.
Despite a nagging ankle injury, Barnett followed up his breakout season of 2011 with another solid year in 2012, recording six tackles per game and grabbing two interceptions.
Barnett is a two-time all-Big Ten honoree, and is one of three returning starters in the Buckeyes’ secondary – a unit he says has the potential to be the best in the country.
What Makes Him Important
Barnett is one of those senior leaders that coach Urban Meyer yearns for. You know, one of those players that Meyer refers to as “my guy” and mentions at every possible instance?
Barnett will be “a tremendous leader for us” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days last month.
Of the three returnees in the Ohio State secondary, Barnett is the most seasoned with 24 career starts under his belt.
He’s also the most consistent. With 131 tackles in the past two seasons, Barnett ranks second only to junior linebacker Ryan Shazier in that category among all Buckeyes,.
Barnett missed three games in 2012, but ranked fourth on the team in total tackles during the undefeated season.
Coming off a 12-0 season will only make things more difficult this season, Barnett said.
“We were hunting, now we’re the hunted,” he said. “We’ve got the target on our back. It’s tougher when everyone’s gunning at you. Everyone’s gunning at you because you’re Ohio State, but now you’re undefeated and have national championship expectations.”
What Can Be Expected Of Him
Based on Barnett’s and Bryant’s comments on Wednesday, expectations are pretty high.
“We’re trying to be the best secondary in the country and I feel like that’s very possible,” Bryant said.
“We want to be the best, but that’s for all ya’ll to decide. We already think we’re the best. We gotta let our play do it and we gotta capitalize on all our opportunities,” added Barnett.
If the Buckeyes are to be the best, Barnett will have to be a big part of it, but they have a long way to go from where they were last year. Ohio State ranked 76th in pass defense – and 11th in the Big Ten – among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in 2012, but safeties coach Everett Withers said he has seen improvement.
"C.J. has gotten better as a fundamental football player in the last year,” Wither said. “I always thought he was a smart football player, but he really worked on his technique in the offseason. I think he's grown leaps and bounds, and I still think he's got more to go."
Despite some of the team’s struggles, Barnett’s play has been unwavering and he should be entering his best season as a Buckeye.
What Would They Do Without Him
Luckily the depth pool in the secondary is deeper than it was at this time last year. With Barnett’s and Bryant’s recent comments regarding the targeting rule, that’s a pool the Buckeyes might have to dip into at some point this season.
Without Barnett, fifth-year senior Corey Brown could fill in at strong safety, as he did at times last season. Brown has seen much of his action on special teams during his career, although he was a guy that Meyer labeled as a possible breakout performer this season.
Freshman Chris Worley, a Cleveland Glenville product, would also see more time if the Buckeyes were without Barnett, though the transition wouldn’t be easy.
Like a Gold Glover in center field, there’s a level of comfort that Barnett provides in the Buckeyes’ secondary, one that Ohio State coaches are surely hoping they won’t have to do without.