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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Each week at Buckeye Grove, we'll examine the current state of the Ohio State position groups, with insight from Buckeyes' players and coaches.
Earlier today, we took a look at the Ohio State offense, which is hoping to bounce back from a down year in 2011. Now, we'll take a look at the state of the Buckeyes' defense, a unit with plenty of fresh faces, but also plenty of potential.
After having coached some of the most dominant defensive lines in college football history at Florida, it's pretty clear that first-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer understands the importance of having a good defensive line. The Buckeyes' coach has said before that this year's OSU d-line has the potential to be as good as the ones that he won national titles with in Gainesville in 2006 and 2008, but that all hinges on whether or not Nathan Williams will be able to make a successful return from microfracture knee surgery.
"Today's a big day for Nate. He's been up and down, trying his heart out," Meyer said. "Tough injury. I would hope to have him for a limited basis in the first game. But today's a big day for him."
Williams' injury, combined with the departures of Adam Bellamy and Kenny Hayes has helped pave the way for the blue chip prospects from Meyer's first Ohio State recruiting class to crack his first game week depth chart. Freshmen defensive linemen Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, and Chris Carter all find themselves in backup roles for the Buckeyes', something that Meyer said is not all that uncommon in today's day and age of college football.
"Nothing's caught me off guard as far as how many freshmen are involved," Meyer said. "I kind of think certainly the last six years a place like Ohio State and Florida, you go out and recruit guys that go play. You're not recruiting them to redshirt."
With the graduation of Andrew Sweat and temporary dismissal and subsequent suspension of Storm Klein, the Buckeyes will be breaking in a pair of new starters at linebacker on Saturday in Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant. Meyer has high hopes for both sophomores, especially Shazier, who showed plenty of promise in limited playing time in 2011.
"I'm biased because I love the guy. He gives what he's got. He's so sincere. I've known him for several years now. I recruited him when I was at Florida," Meyer said. "His God-given skill level is really high. Our expectation level is an all-Big Ten type player at some point. I don't know if it's this year, but he has that skill level."
Grant, on the other hand, might not see the field as much as he's expected to on Saturday thanks to a pass-heavy Miami (OH) offense that could force the Buckeyes into the nickel defense. That would force Grant off the field in favor of an extra defensive back, while keeping Shazier and senior linebacker Etienne Sabino on the field.
"I would imagine, but I'm not sure," Shazier said when asked if he expected the Buckeyes to play more nickel than base defense on Saturday. "I'm excited. You want to stay on the field at all times. The more you're on the field, the more plays you have to make."
Perhaps the unit with the least amount of questions on the Buckeyes' roster heading into 2012 is its secondary, where it returns all four of its starters from a season ago. After coming into fall camp as a co-starter with Doran Grant, senior Travis Howard has taken possession of the starting cornerback spot opposite No. 1 corner Bradley Roby.
"You really need four. They've got to be able to be out there and be fresh and be rested and ready to go," OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said of his players. "To me, we have three ones. We're going to roll those kids through, they're all going to play, they're all going to play a significant amount. I'm very well-pleased with that."
On the depth chart that was released on Monday, Adam Griffin was listed as the fourth OSU corner, but expect to see true freshmen Devan Bogard, Najee Murray, and Armani Reeves get playing time against the RedHawks. Junior safety Christian Bryant said that the combination of experience and youth in the OSU secondary could present problems for opposing passing attacks.
"I'm just excited overall for this season, this upcoming season. We've got a lot of positive guys, we've got a lot of experienced guys out there," Bryant said. "The freshmen came in and they do it real good, man. Just positive energy just going out there."
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