Christian Bryant: The Old Man and the "C"
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With cornerback Bradley Roby serving a one-game suspension and safety C.J. Barnett being a last-minute scratch with an ankle injury, any semblance of defensive calm and comfort for the Buckeyes against Buffalo last week had to be put on hold for a spell.
Photo by Dan Harker
And then as if things weren't bad enough, a defense that was already cloaked in question marks went and added another cloudy layer when linebacker Ryan Shazier went down with cramps in the second quarter, leaving senior safety and captain Christian Bryant as the lone veteran on the field.
Half shepherd and half safety, Bryant was left by his lonesome to corral the 10 relatively-inexperienced players lining up in front of him. Amazingly, it took him two days to even realize just how inexperienced the defense in front of him was at times.
"I just heard that I was the only returning starter on the defense at one time," he said on Monday.
"I actually didn't notice at all. I felt like the young guys, especially the defensive line, they came out to play right off the bat. I feel like Coach Vrabes does a great job of coaching those guys and just leading them and having them go every single snap. I feel like that's what we need from our defensive line the whole season."
Photo by Dan Harker
He may not have been aware that he was the only returning starter on the field, or the only captain, but he was always aware of the mood and mentality of his teammates.
When Buffalo began making a game of it in the second and third quarters, Bryant made sure to talk to his defense and get everybody on the same page.
"Just knowing some of the situations that we were in throughout the game, when Buffalo got the ball after the fumble, I felt like it was my time to rally the troops, just telling them, 'Let's go, it's time to pick it up,'" he said.
Being a leader isn't something new for Bryant, who has always led by example. But this year, more is being asked of him, and he's doing whatever he can to help this team move forward.
"I'm trying to be one of those guys who can lead our defense and the team," he explained.
"It's such a big role that I have to step into this season, just being one of those veteran guys showing some of the young guys the way of playing the game, especially the big-time games in the Horseshoe."
How young were those guys he was trying to show the way on Saturday?
When Shazier went down, the players around Bryant had come into the Buffalo game with a combined seven career starts. Bryant alone came in with 22. Sure, most everybody on the field at that time had played before, but not many of them had played extensively.
And yet, despite all of the added pressure of an entirely new secondary surrounding him, and a new front seven in front of him, Bryant was named the Buckeyes' defensive player of the week. He ended up making 94% of the plays that were available to him.
Given the circumstances, it would be hard to ask for more than what Bryant provided against Buffalo. And while he is pleased with how he and his defense performed, he is certainly looking forward to getting his old running mates back.
After all, worrying about your own assignments is usually enough stress for a player. Worrying about somebody else's assignments is what gets you into trouble.
"With Roby and C.J. back, I think it's going to boost the defense's confidence a little bit more just having those veteran guys back," he said.
"I know I'll feel a lot better with them back there."
Bryant's words aren't a slight to Armani Reeves or Corey Brown, who stepped in during Roby and Barnett's absences. They are simply truth.
After all, this will be the third year that Bryant, Barnett and Roby have all started next to each other. They have built up a comfort level with each other that is missing when one of them isn't around.
And as a safety, how could you not feel just a little more comfortable with Bradley Roby around? He is a lock-down, All-American cornerback who can allow a safety to make a mistake or two and not have it lose a game.
If all goes as planned on Saturday, Bryant will have Shazier, Barnett and Roby around him again, and he will be able to worry more about himself than his teammates.
But being a captain, he's always going to have a veteran eye on those around him. And so far he likes what he has seen.
"Overall, I feel like the defense and the team performed well on Saturday," he said.
"As long as we continue to play as a whole and play together as a defense this year, we should do good things."
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