October 9, 2012

Midterm grades: The Ohio State defense

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Thanks to an offensive counterpart that is finally clicking under first-year head coach Urban Meyer, the Ohio State defense has somewhat flown under the radar through the Buckeyes' first six weeks of the season. With OSU now at the midpoint of the season and with an undefeated record still intact, we decided to hand out our midterm grades for each Buckeyes' position group, in an effort to gauge where the Silver Bullets stand heading into the second half of the season.

Defensive line: B

Entering the 2012 season expected to be the strength of not only the OSU defense, but team as a whole, the Buckeyes' defensive line has shown flashes, but also inconsistencies through their first six games.

Due to an injury to Michael Bennett that kept the sophomore defensive lineman out of OSU's first four games and unexpected attrition before the start of the season, the unit has not been as deep as it was once expected to be. Defensive line coach Mike Vrabel has seldom rotated players, often relying on starters John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel, and Nathan Williams to play the majority of OSU's defensive snaps.

Hankins has emerged as the star of the OSU line- if not defense- recording 31 tackles and one sack from the defensive tackle position, while Simon bounced back from a shoulder injury to gain two sacks against Nebraska, giving him a team-high three on the season.

True freshmen Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, and Tommy Schutt have played sparingly and have not made the impact that many may have expected from them in their debut seasons, but given the unit's lack of rotation, 2013 may be their time to shine.

Linebackers: C-

No unit on the OSU defense was under more scrutiny heading into the 2012 season, and through six games, that still remains to be the case.

On the bright side, Ryan Shazier is making the natural progression from freshman to sophomore, leading the Buckeyes in tackles with 59- 18 more than anybody else on the team- and has also recorded two sacks. Etienne Sabino has been inconsistent, but earned the team's defensive player of the week award following his efforts in the Buckeyes' win over Michigan State. The senior linebacker suffered a fracture in his fibula against Nebraska and is expected to miss at least OSU's next three games.

Sophomore Curtis Grant has not lived up to the preseason hype that the OSU coaching staff heaped on him as he entered the season as the Buckeyes' starting middle linebacker, and as a result, Storm Klein has been forced to play more than he was originally expected to after returning from a temporary dismissal from the team. Klein has played better than he did during his junior season, but he's still not the player that the OSU coaching staff would ideally like to lineup in the middle of their defense.

Behind Shazier, Sabino, and Klein, the Buckeyes have a whole bunch of inexperience in true freshmen Joshua Perry, Jamal Marcus, Camren Williams, and David Perkins. All four of those players have made more of a mark on special teams than anywhere else, and it remains to be seen if any will be able to contribute significantly on defense by the end of the season.

Defensive backs: A-

If Hankins has been the No. 1 player on the OSU defense, then cornerback Bradley Roby has been 1A. In five games (he sat out OSU's game against UAB with a shoulder injury), Roby has made 32 tackles, defended nine passes, broken up 11 passes, and recorded two interceptions- one of which was returned for a touchdown. The redshirt sophomore has emerged as OSU's undisputed No. 1 cornerback and is sure to be on the radar of opposing quarterbacks moving forward.

Opposite of Roby, Travis Howard has put together a nice senior season, recording three interceptions, breaking up four passes, and defending seven passes. The Miami, Fla. native has routinely found himself on Meyer's champions club list for players who graded out with winning performances in each game.

He's only received one start this season, but Doran Grant has also stepped up as a legitimate cornerback option for the Buckeyes, recording both an interception and a sack in OSU's 29-15 win over UAB.

Lining up behind Roby and Howard, Christian Bryant has put together a strong junior season, becoming the Buckeyes' second-leading tackler and earning the defensive player of the game award in the aforementioned win over UAB. The Cleveland native is arguably the defense's hardest hitter and is the unit's most outspoken player, which has gotten him in trouble at times in the form of 15-yard penalties.

Across from Bryant, C.J. Barnett has been troubled by a high ankle sprain that has kept him out of OSU's past three games. In his absence, senior Orhian Johnson has played well, recording two interceptions and defending nine passes, but his absence has forced Corey Brown into the nickel back position, where he has struggled in both coverage and run support.

Like the linebackers, most of the OSU secondary's backups are true freshmen, but players like Armani Reeves, Devan Bogard, and Najee Murray have all done enough on special teams to prove that the future of the Buckeyes' defensive backfield should remain a strong one.


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