Five to watch: Defense

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Last updated: 03/05/2013 3:36 AM

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Football
Five Players to Watch This Spring: Defense
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The return of Braxton Miller and eight other starters may have Urban Meyer ‘fired up about the Ohio State offense this spring, but the defense will be a work in progress.

The Buckeyes were a middle-of-the-road defense in the Big Ten for most of the year last year and now they must replace seven starters, including six guys in the front seven.

Junior Ryan Shazier and corner Bradley Roby return as two of the better players in the Big Ten, but there will be a number of jobs up for grabs this spring. Here’s a look at five players to keep an eye on as the Buckeyes open spring camp today.

1. Curtis Grant (LB, 6-3, 235, Jr.)

Curtis Grant
Photo by Jim Davidson
Curtis Grant

Outside of Braxton Miller, no player at Ohio State will have more eye balls on him this spring than third-year linebacker Curtis Grant. The former 5-star prospect out of Virginia was anointed as the middle linebacker of the future last spring, but he wasn’t even playing the position by the end of the year.

Grant’s first few games as a starter were an adventure and eventually be ended up as a backup to Etienne Sabino at Sam linebacker, while Meyer was forced to switch fullback Zach Boren over to help solidify things at Mike linebacker. The Buckeyes are going to give Grant another chance to be this team’s inside linebacker in the spring and the time is ticking if he’s ever going to make much of an impact at Ohio State.
 
2. Adolphus Washington (DL, 6-3, 289, So.)

Adolphus Washington
Photo by Jim Davidson
Adolphus Washington

The Buckeyes have to replace all four starters on the defensive line this spring, which means a lot of focus will be on young guys like Washington and Noah Spence. Another guy to watch this spring is junior Michael Bennett, the only real veteran on the defensive front for Fickell and Mike Vrabel, but Washington is the guy to keep an eye on this spring.

Spence is going to replace John Simon as the team’s top pass rusher in 2013, but Washington is a guy who could move around and play a few different positions. He is big enough to play inside at the 3-technique where Johnathan Hankins was last year, but he’s also fast enough to line up on the edge and get after the quarterback. He actually finished third on the team in sacks last year behind Simon and Ryan Shazier, and Washington has the look of a future star for the Buckeyes.

3. Doran Grant (CB, 5-11, 188, Jr.)

Doran Grant and Kerry Coombs
Photo by Dan Harker
Doran Grant, Kerry Coombs

Nobody is higher on Grant right now than OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, who considered the youngster out of Akron to be a de facto third starter for the Buckeyes in 2012. He had a rough outing in the one game he did start in place of Bradley Roby, but with Roby back for his junior year there won’t be as much pressure on Grant to perform as a No. 1 corner this year.

Now in his third year out St. Vincent-St. Mary, Grant appears ready to step in for Travis Howard, who led the Big Ten in interceptions last season. He will have to fend of sophomore Armani Reeves, but keep an eye on No. 12 opposite Roby this spring.

4. Camren Williams (LB, 6-1, 225, So.)

Camren Williams
Photo by Jim Davidson
Camren Williams

We already mentioned Curtis Grant as a guy to keep an eye on at middle linebacker, but there is no guarantee he is going to be the team’s starter by the end of spring practice. If it’s not Grant, the mos```h Boren at inside linebacker would have to be sophomore Camren Williams. The second-year player out of Massachusetts is the son of former New England Patriots’ defensive end Brent Williams and he became the backup to Boren towards the end of last season.

The former 4-star prospect has good size and athleticism, but his best asset may be instincts. Williams is reportedly one of the more instinctive players Ohio State has at linebacker. The Buckeyes are also looking for some leadership at the position, so keep an eye on No. 5 at the linebacker spot.

5. Eli Apple (CB, 6-0, 185, Fr.)

We could have also gone with fellow freshman Cameron Burrows here, but Apple just seems to have the natural man coverage skills it takes to grab early attention as a rookie this spring. Burrows could get some action at corner or safety, but Apple is a pure corner who some scouts have called the best coverage guy in his recruiting class.

Apple was a 5-star prospect according to ESPN and the No. 1-rated prospect in the state of New Jersey. He was also a good receiver in high school who caught 39 passes to go with his 17 pass deflections as a senior at Eastern High School. He could compete for a spot in the two-deep as a true freshman in the spring.

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