Re-tooled Secondary Will Be On Display in Orange Bowl
By Rob Ogden
When senior safety C.J. Barnett looks around him Friday night on the field at the Orange Bowl, he'll see some faces in unfamiliar places.
Injuries, as well as the need to refine a struggling secondary have caused the Buckeyes to mix things up as they prepare to face Clemson.
There's a possibility there could be three different faces in new places in the Buckeyes' nickel package.
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell confirmed Monday that freshman Vonn Bell will start at nickel and redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell will be moved to safety.
It will mark Bell's first collegiate start, and the Buckeyes are hoping the freshman out of Rossville, Ga. can give the unit a boost.
"He's been there all year really, just hasn't had an opportunity to play as much," Fickell said. "That's probably one of those things, when you've got some time and you've got a freshman guy that you can get in there and get more reps throughout those three weeks of bowl prep. It's just a matter of time before that guy continues to get more and more playing time for us."
Adding Bell to the lineup was a choice, but losing All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby was not.
Roby is still rehabbing from a knee injury he suffered during the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 7 and his status for Friday's game remains in question.
If Roby can't go, starting in his place will be sophomore Armani Reeves. Reeves started the first game of the season while Roby served a one-game suspension.
Add in the fact that the Buckeyes lost senior Christian Bryant to injury in week five, and Barnett is looking at a much different secondary than the one coaches envisioned back in August.
“I think throughout my career I've been playing with a lot of different people," Barnett said. "That's the nature of the beast. It's football. It's a tough, physical sport. Guys go down, and other guys have to step up. I think we've practiced enough, and with a few more days of practice, our chemistry will get good. I think it's just up to us going out there and executing.”
Powell and even Reeves have significant game experience this season. Reeves played more than a half against Iowa when Roby was ejected for targeting and took over for his teammate in the Big Ten Championship game, as well.
Bell, on the other hand, has had very little meaningful action.
Of the experience he does have, none of it compares to what he'll face Friday night against one of the nation's best offenses.
Barnett said he couldn't imagine making his first start as a freshman in the Orange Bowl. Though he added, "But I wasn't Vonn Bell coming out of high school."
“As a freshman in the Orange Bowl, first start? That's kind of crazy," Barnett said.
Barnett said he feels it's his responsibility to take on a leadership role with the younger players.
During Monday's practice, he appeared to offer some help to Bell during drills.
“Vonn Bell is a talented guy. A five-star recruit, All-American in high school," Barnett said. "So this is the big stage, but I think throughout his high school career he's been on the big stage. I think there's high expectations for him, and I think he has the talent to meet those expectations. We'll continue practicing and hopefully he'll prove that he deserves to be out there.”
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