Unanswered Questions: defense

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Last updated: 04/18/2014 2:27 AM
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Spring's Unanswered Questions for the Buckeye Defense
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Following the defensive collapse at the end of the 2013 season, Urban Meyer made promises about sweeping changes coming for the Ohio State defense.

We saw many of those changes this spring. Moving to more aggressive coverages, switching the linebackers from "strong" and "weak" to "field" and "boundary", and changing the defensive line from "strong" and "weak" to "left" and "right".

There are changes everywhere, and you don't need to look too hard to find them. Despite the immensity of the changes, the defense left Spring Football feeling pretty good about where they stand, and where they are going.

A lot of questions were answered over the last six weeks, but not all of them. Let's take a look at a few questions that remain.

1. Who will start at middle linebacker?
This question may not be answered until the final week of fall practice, and even then the answer may change a month later. While Urban Meyer has declared this contest wide open, he hasn't done it out of panic. He actually seems calm about the situation, which either means he likes all three candidates (Curtis Grant, Camren Williams, and freshman Raekwon McMillan), or it means that he REALLY likes McMillan. Regardless of which it is, this is one of the rare positions that is undecided that Meyer actually seems enthused about.

2. Which Buckeye will be the nickel back?
Vonn Bell's knee injury didn't just interfere with the situation at safety, it also threw a wrench into what the Buckeyes planned on doing at nickel. Cameron Burrows was slated to get a look at both safety and nickel, but with Bell's injury there was no chance to get Burrows reps at nickel. Instead, cornerback Armani Reeves slid down at times, and redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley or Eli Apple would then come in at cornerback. The moves worked well all around, but once fall camp starts the assumption is that either Burrows or Bell will be in the mix at nickel. But even then, which safety it will be is still up in the air because the free safety job itself is up in the air.

3. Can this defensive line stop the run?
This is one of those questions that won't be known until the season gets underway. Even if they give up 300 yards rushing to Navy in the opener, that doesn't really mean much considering they won't face another offense like Navy's the rest of the season. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson has spoken of no concerns about the lack of size at defensive tackle, and he expects their quickness to be an overwhelming disruptor. While nobody doubts the talent on the defensive line, they did have trouble stopping the run towards the end of the year last season. The defense also gave up a number of long runs this spring. That's not solely on the defensive line, but it's certainly something to keep in mind.

4. Will Jamal Marcus be a contributor?
Defensive end Jamal Marcus sat out the last part of spring practice in order to focus on his academics. He spent most of spring behind Tyquan Lewis and Steve Miller, who spent their time behind Noah Spence and Joey Bosa. The depth at defensive end is pretty impressive right now for the Buckeyes, and it's only going to get deeper once the freshmen arrive. Can Marcus dig himself out of this hole and get back onto the field and do what everybody saw him do in the Orange Bowl? If he can do the former, then the latter should follow.

5. Does the overhauled secondary work?
While this may qualify as an unanswered question, the current favorite for an answer would be "so far, so good". Tyvis Powell said after the Spring Game that they only had one miscommunication, and that came when Cameron Burrows missed a signal that Powell gave him. The communication between the safeties and corners has been productive, and for the most part, the secondary worked very well this spring. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that they were never going against Ohio State's best passing offense because Braxton Miller wasn't ever at quarterback. Even if he was, where would the OSU passing game rank among the Buckeyes' opponents this year? At its best, the Ohio State passing game probably won't be the best passing game the Buckeye defense faces this season. Things were promising, but still very much unanswered.

6. Can Joshua Perry replace Ryan Shazier?
You might already be answering "No" on this one simply because of the impact that Ryan Shazier has had in the Scarlet and Gray. The Buckeyes are moving on, however, and now it's time for somebody else to step into the role as designated tackling machine. That duty now falls to Joshua Perry, who was tabbed by Urban Meyer as one of the five most-improved players on the team. He is playing a new position now, however, but he is excited about it. Will he get the 10 tackles per game that Shazier averaged, or will he get into the backfield as often as Shazier? It's doubtful, but it would be doubtful for anybody. Replacing Shazier is a lot to ask, but all the defense will be asking of Perry is to be a leader and playmaker, and they'll be hoping the rest takes care of itself. We shall see.

Related: Unanswered Questions for the Buckeye Offense

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