Instant Impact: Defense

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Last updated: 02/06/2014 4:41 AM
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Football
Instant Impact: Five New Buckeyes Who Should Immediately See the Field on Defense
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer talked about two of his defensive units facing an overhaul on Wednesday, and well he should have. This is a defense that will be replacing three starters in the secondary, as well as breaking in a new secondary coach. It's a whole new beginning for everybody in the defensive backfield.

At the same time, the Buckeyes will be taking the field without Ryan Shazier at linebacker, and no proven tackle-maker to replace him. Even returning starters Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant have no guarantees moving forward.

The defensive line was the only area that isn't in need of an overhaul, and yet with new coach Larry Johnson handling the front four, he will have his own touches to add.

Given all of the changes, this should be a much different defense that we see moving forward. Part of that change will involve this freshman class. Meyer is putting pressure on them to play immediately, though some are more likely to see the field than others.

Here are five players who should make an instant impact.

1. LB - Raekwon McMillan

When a team lands the nation's #1 middle linebacker, they generally don't have intentions of letting him season for a year. Urban Meyer has been candid and repetitive about the Buckeye linebackers not being up to Ohio State standards, and just because two starters return from last season doesn't mean they'll step right back into their starting roles. Raekwon McMillan is already working with the team and Meyer said he looks more like a junior than a freshman at times. Nobody has played linebacker well enough to keep McMillan from getting a very long look in the spring and beyond.

2. S - Erick Smith
It's a luxury to have a safety that covers like a cornerback, and as of Wednesday, that luxury now belongs to the Buckeyes. Smith can cover like a cornerback and hit like a linebacker, which is exactly what every coach wants out of their safety. Even though he won't be enrolling until this summer, Urban Meyer said Smith would step right into the depth chart. If we are to assume that Cameron Burrows is now the starting nickel back and Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell are the safeties (this is not yet a sure thing), then that is three jobs that will be handled by entirely new starters. Smith could end up at any of those three spots, and play.

3. LB - Kyle Berger

If not for a torn ACL this past year, much more of the talk about Ohio State's linebacker class would be centered around Kyle Berger. Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard and Dante Booker are all rated five stars by at least one service, but Berger could very easily be the best of the lot. He is an ideal weakside linebacker, and that's the one linebacking position that returns almost no experience. Urban Meyer has said that none of his linebackers would redshirt, which tells me that Berger will be healthy and ready to go. Berger is known as an excellent tackler, which would seem to be just what this Buckeye defense needs.

4. CB - Damon Webb
The Buckeyes return four cornerbacks and add two with Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore in this class. Despite the fact that there would already seem to be a two-deep at cornerback with the existing players, Urban Meyer said that he expects Damon Webb to work his way onto the depth chart this year. There are no plans to redshirt him, which means that cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs needs to get him ready. Webb shouldn't need as much work as most because he's already a very polished defender. There are jobs open at cornerback, and Webb will be in the mix taking advantage of the opportunities he is creating.

5. LB - Sam Hubbard
Sam Hubbard played safety in high school, so for that reason alone, I assumed that he would spend his first year learning how to play linebacker and likely redshirting. Instead, Urban Meyer talked on Wednesday about how excited he was to see Hubbard out on the field this season. Add that excitement to Meyer's mandate that none of these linebackers redshirt, and Hubbard skyrockets right up the instant impact chart. The potential that he possesses is absolutely unique, but I'm still not convinced he won't go through some growing pains at linebacker. That being said, it's generally wise to defer to Urban Meyer, so I will.

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