Spring Football Showcased Young Talent for Buckeye Defense
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some college football programs are allowed to have a few down years on defense while they wait for players to mature, but the Ohio State Buckeyes do not have that luxury.
Down years for an Ohio State defense tend to bring coaching changes, which is exactly what the Buckeyes are going through right now. And just as new coaches must produce, so too must new players. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, this spring showcased an impressive array of first and second-year players on defense.
For as promising as the youth is on the offensive side of the ball, it was on defense where those players have really made an impression.
Obviously, defensive end Joey Bosa bears mentioning, as he is an All-American candidate this season. He was as expected this spring while he continues to wrap up his first year as an Ohio State student.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Bosa already has 10 starts and 7.5 sacks to his credit, and he has just finished up his first spring as an Ohio State Buckeye. As far as ceilings go, Bosa may very well be a convertible.
The number of second-year defensive linemen who shined this spring doesn't stop at just Bosa, however. Defensive end Tyquan Lewis and defensive tackles Donovan Munger and Michael Hill were all productive. Lewis and Munger are redshirt freshmen, and Hill will likely be granted a medical redshirt for last season, making him a redshirt freshman as well.
Lewis showed the fans in the Spring Game the explosion and speed that his coaches have seen for a while now. Munger and Hill were effective penetrators this spring, but will there be enough snaps for both players to get into the rotation?
But if we're talking about youth being served, perhaps no position was helped as much as the situation at linebacker. Darron Lee and Chris Worley are redshirt freshmen fighting for the same Sam linebacker spot, and both consistently made plays all spring long. Lee is slated to start, but Worley won't be locked out.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Similarly, Urban Meyer has already said middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will play this year, and it was clear this spring that he was capable of extended minutes. It's too early to say whether or not the true freshman will live up to his five-star hype, but it's pretty clear that he's going to get the opportunity to try right away.
One of the most enjoyable battles all spring was the race for the #3 cornerback between redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. Both were always around the ball, and neither looked as though they didn't belong. The fun part is that this battle will continue this fall, but it probably won't be long before they are both multi-year starters together.
At safety, the Buckeyes rolled out with three sophomores, each of whom Meyer is very high on. Tyvis Powell is a redshirt sophomore, so he doesn't technically fit into the confines of this piece, but he's on pace to be a four-year starter for the Buckeyes, and three of those years are still to come.
Even though Vonn Bell was injured this spring, he began with the ones, which should tell you what new safeties coach Chris Ash thought of him. In Bell's place, fellow sophomore Cameron Burrows slid right in for him and played well.
While Conley and Apple are competing for the same spot in the fall, it looks like Bell and Burrows will be doing the same at free safety.
A young defense is always a concern for a coach, but there is enough experience planted throughout this particular Ohio State defense that there will also definitely be a veteran presence.
When you return six starters from last year's front seven, being too young wouldn't seem to be much of a problem. Even in the secondary, cornerbacks Doran Grant and Armani Reeves have been around forever.
The young talent on defense will have a chance to complement the veterans very well, and in some cases the vets will be complementing them.
The number of first and second-year players on this team in prominent roles is concerning, but this spring should have eased some of those concerns. The talent may be young, but age is frequently trumped by ability.
Urban Meyer will have three of his recruiting classes on the field for him this season, and from what we saw over the last two months, that's going to be a pretty good thing.
Youth was definitely served this spring, but that service needs to continue through the summer and fall. If it does, then there will be nobody in the Big Ten that can match up with the amount of talent that the Buckeyes will put on the field this season.
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