Having already gone over one thing I’d like to see from each position group on the Ohio State offense this season, it’s time to give the same treatment to the Buckeye defense.
Ohio State is replacing three starters on the defensive line, two starters at linebacker, and two starters in the secondary. There are concerns galore, but the level of those concerns might not be all that dire.
While Urban Meyer is still in limbo, the Ohio State defensive coaching staff is fully in place and on point. They are carrying on because they have starters to find and a defense to refine. And there are still goals to meet.
In order to increase their odds of reaching these goals, some good things need to happen in each position group. Some of those things are more important than others, but for me, here’s one important thing I’d like to see happen at each position.
We’ll start on the defensive line.
The Buckeyes had an incredible defensive end rotation that went six deep last year. Having young defensive ends like freshman Chase Young and sophomore Jonathon Cooper to take snaps when the games weren’t in doubt allowed the veterans to stay even fresher than their normal rotation allowed. This year, with four defensive ends again looking to rotate, they could use some help from a freshman or two. If the Buckeyes can get some help from, say, freshman Tyreke Smith, who just had his black stripe removed, that would give the rest of the rotation a breather throughout a game. It would also be good news for Ohio State if a freshman like Smith wasn’t just good enough to play, but good enough to produce.
A position coach will tell you that it is not his job to keep his players happy. Rather it is their job to keep him happy. With the very solid depth that Ohio State has at defensive tackle, if the bulk of those players want to be happy, then they are going to have to find a way onto the field. The Buckeyes will have three fourth-year juniors in the defensive tackle rotation. Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton will be at nose tackle, while Dre’Mont Jones will hold it down at the three technique. The rest of the depth chart, however, is pretty young. There are players who have yet to prove themselves, but they all have talent. If Ohio State can find a rotation that pleases Larry Johnson, which will also include younger guys like Haskell Garrett, Taron Vincent, Antwuan Jackson, and Tommy Togiai, then not only will this unit have the depth it needs to be great, but it will have also gotten a head start to next year and beyond.
There are personnel concerns here, such as who are the starting linebackers and where might Baron Browning ultimately end up, but if you’re asking me for one thing — which you clearly are — I’m going with an improved pass defense from the linebackers. I’ll probably never get Baker Mayfield controlling the linebackers last year like a yo-yo. The trip to Iowa will also linger like fish in a microwave. Be it running backs or tight ends, the Buckeye linebackers must defend the pass better this year. I wonder how quickly that can happen with so many position changes going on. Can this group handle Greg Schiano’s complexities, or will he need to simplify things like he had to last year?
The plan for most Ohio State cornerbacks is to play so well, you never see your final year of eligibility. If I’m looking for one thing from the Buckeye corners to ensure their success, it would fourth-year junior Damon Arnette playing well enough to continue the legacy of first-round draft picks at the position. This will be his second season as a starter. Last year he was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection, and last week he was named Second-Team Preseason All-American by Sports Illustrated. If he can live up to Sports Illustrated’s expectations, then the Buckeye secondary is going to have a very good chance to contain the kind of passing offenses they could face in the playoffs.
The easy answer here is wanting to see a second safety step up next to Jordan Fuller, but I think that’s going to happen one way or another. What I want to see is Jordan Fuller develop into a lockdown free safety. Last year he was the deep safety, but his role (presumably) has changed this year. He will be handling the Damon Webb-Vonn Bell role as a slot corner for the Buckeye defense. He’s a bigger safety than either of those two, but he did come to Ohio State as a cornerback, so the skills are there. Fuller is without a doubt one of the leaders of this Ohio State defense, but he is playing a new position and it’s not an easy position to master.
I’m not a football coach, but if I was, the one thing I would want from my kicking team is simply consistency. The ability to trust the guys who are going to determine the field position is a must. Ohio State had that last year and if they are going to win it all this year, they’ll need it again. The new kickoff rules are going to make things interesting, but having three guys who can place the ball where the coaches want it is going to be key for the Buckeyes this year.