Returners make Buckeyes stronger

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Last updated: 09/06/2013 4:20 AM
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Football
Missing Links make Buckeye Player Chain Stronger in Week Two
By Patrick Murphy

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That metaphor is often applied to sports teams and will be again to Ohio State.

Last week, the Buckeyes were without several key contributors because of injury or suspension. This week they should get back the majority of those players as they prepare to take on San Diego State.

When starters are unavailable, the reserves have to fill in. This does mean next man up, but it works its way down the depth chart. Second sting becomes first string, third string becomes second sting.

That impacts the special teams unit because players are either off special teams due to starting or they are being used for both which may wear them down.

Here is a breakdown of what Ohio State missed last week, how it affected the team, and what it means to have these players back in the lineup this week.

Bradley Roby

Bradley Roby
Photo by Dan Harker
Bradley Roby

Roby is an All-American cornerback, a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award, and All-Big Ten for the Buckeyes, so taking him off the field for the opener obviously hurts the team.

The fourth-year junior finished second on the team in solo tackles a year ago with 41 and third with 63 total tackles. He led the nation with 19 passes defended and 17 pass breakups, which tied the Ohio State single-season record.

He had two interceptions in 2012 – giving him five for his career – including one for a touchdown against Nebraska.

Not only do the Buckeyes miss a talent in Roby’s absence, they also miss a leader on the field as a two year starter and upperclassman.

With Roby suspended, Doran Grant became the number one cornerback in his second career start. And sophomore Armani Reeves made his first ever start.

As expected, Buffalo targeted Reeves early and often. The youngster was serviceable, but missed some tackles and was called for a penalty.

Because he was moved into a starting role, Reeves was not available for special teams duty.

“Roby coming back now frees up Armani, who is a tremendous special teams player for us,” Meyer said this week.

It is assumed Roby will be the number one corner against San Diego State this week, but Meyer would not commit to him being the starter.

“He will not be named a starter,” the head coach said. “We’ll probably see. Armani or Roby will start, depends on how they practice.”

Whether Roby comes out on the first defensive play or not, his return will be welcomed.

Ohio State played their young corners off of the Bulls’ wide receivers for much of the game to prevent getting beat over the top. There is a trust with Roby that he can handle the tight coverage that neither Grant nor Reeves has yet earned.
It is also likely that quarterbacks will hesitate to throw Roby’s way because of his ability. This effectively limits a team to throwing to one side of the field and makes coverages easier.

C.J. Barnett

C. J. Barnett
Photo by Jim Davidson
C. J. Barnett

Barnett was a game-time decision to not play due to an ankle injury suffered the week before in practice. The coaches elected to not push things with him in the first game, though he could have played if necessary.

Barnett was the Buckeyes’ fourth-leading tackler in 2012. He had two interceptions last year and six passes defended.
Barnett is the most experienced player on the Ohio State defense, playing in 32 games and starting 24.

In his place was senior Corey Brown and sophomore Ron Tanner.

Tanner finished the game with an interception, but neither he nor Brown were tested often.

Barnett, like Roby, helps to cover his side of the field with his experience and talent. When a young player, like Grant or Reeves is in the game, having an experienced safety on either side of the field helps to provide relief and allow for mistakes.

“Looks very positive for C.J. Barnett to be back,” Meyer said on Monday.

“Having C.J. Barnett and Roby being back is certainly going to help us.”

Barnett, as well as Roby, also contributes on special teams, so having them back will allow the Buckeyes to do more with that unit.

Rod Smith

Rod Smith
Photo by Jim Davidson
Rod Smith

Smith’s suspension was announced late in the offseason and went under the radar in comparison with the other players’.

This also may have been because Smith was the only suspended player who was not a starter, but Carlos Hyde’s absence meant that Smith’s was felt more.

“He's playing faster because of the knowledge of the system,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said at the conclusion of Spring Practice.

“He was just very physical. He was a physical presence out there, and often enough the tempo setter of practice. So I'm really excited where Rod Smith is right now.”

At 6’3”, 232, Smith is a physical specimen unlike anyone else on the Buckeyes’ roster. He has rare combination of size and speed and the coaching staff has been hoping 2013 will be the year he can put it all together.

For his career, Smith has 61 carries for 331 yards and three touchdowns, including career highs in all categories last season.
With Hyde already suspended, Smith’s absence meant a further reshuffle of the running backs.

Jordan Hall, who was expected to play the hybrid H-back role, was moved exclusively to running back for the opening game. This limited Ohio State on how diverse their offense could be.
“Last spring I had the intention of making Jordan Hall more of an H,” Meyer said. “But an H that can come in and motion in and that’s when he can cause issues for the defenses.”

Chris Fields was listed as the starter at the H-back, but played almost exclusively as the slot receiver. Freshman Dontre Wilson did see some time at the position, but the coaches were not going to overuse him in his first game.

Smith, who has risen up the depth chart with his play on special teams, will revert back to return to good graces. He will likely be a contributor there against the Aztecs, but it would be surprising not to see him at running back as well.

Though Meyer insists that Hall is the best back on the roster, Smith’s return will allow the flexibility the coach envisioned with Hall. He will be able to use a player with experience in the backfield and move Hall around the offense.

If Smith has made the progress reported by the staff, he could free Hall up to do a lot and put up big numbers himself.

Corey Linsley

Corey Linsley
Photo by Dan Harker
Corey Linsley

Linsley was not a player who missed the entire game, but he only played 17 snaps before he was pulled. This was due to a foot injury he suffered last season that required post-season surgery. The center missed time in preseason and is not yet 100%.
The fifth-year senior is the quarterback of the offensive line and a leader of the team as a whole.

There is a comfort level that develops between a quarterback and his center – especially when exclusively playing in the shotgun – and that only occurs after reps and reps. Linsley and Miller have developed this chemistry.

A center does block, but his main role is to make sure everyone else’s assignments on the line are correct. This is hard to do without experience playing at this level.

Without Linsley, the Buckeyes turned to sophomore Jacoby Boren. The sophomore had played in just two games before coming in against Buffalo, so he did not quite bring the knowledge of Linsley.

“Coach Meyer has been talking good about Corey for so long, he says he's one of the best centers,” Hall said this past week. “So if you take out one of the best centers, it's obviously not going to be as good, but Jacoby's a good center too.”

The positive for Ohio State was that Boren had many reps in the fall due to Linsley’s injury, yet there was a drop off by the offensive line in the second half. Whether that had to do with Boren’s minutes or not, Linsley was missed after he was taken out.

“We are going to get more play out of Corey Linsley on offense, and so that's a positive,” Meyer said. “We are starting to get our roster back intact.”

Linsley will still not play every offensive snap this weekend, but he should see more time than last game.

This means the Buckeyes will get more of the cohesive line they expected and the leadership Linsley brings.

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