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2011 Ohio State Preview – Defense
Ohio State DE Nathan Williams
Ohio State DE Nathan Williams
Posted Jun 28, 2011 2011 Preview - Ohio State Buckeye Defense

Ohio State Buckeyes

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Ohio State Preview | 2011 Ohio State Offense
- 2011 Ohio State Defense | 2011 Ohio State Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know:
This will be a major test of the past few Ohio State recruiting classes. The Buckeyes weren’t splashy and they didn’t get into the backfield enough, but they finished fourth in the nation in total defense, third in run D, and fifth in scoring defense. The pass rush has been mediocre over the last few years, and it’s not going to be anything special once again even though Nathan Williams is a good-looking veteran end and the line appears to have reloaded despite some key losses. The linebacking corps also has some big shoes to fill, but there are plenty of good prospects waiting to shine with Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino about to put up huge numbers. The secondary is the biggest issue with three starters gone and a mediocre pass rush that won’t help the cause. The safeties should be solid, helped by the return of Orhian Johnson, but the corners will be a bit suspect. Fortunately, there aren’t that many great passing teams on the slate.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Orhian Johnson, 50
Sacks: Nathan Williams, 4.5
Interceptions: Travis Howard, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DT John Simon
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior LB Etienne Sabino
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Johnathan Hankins
Best pro prospect: Hankins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Simon, 2) DE Nathan Williams, 3) S Orhian Johnson
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Tackle
Weakness of the defense: Sure-Thing Corner, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive front loses some key parts with Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore gone, but there are some nice pass rushers back on the outside and enough good, young, big players ready to fill in the gaps. This is a versatile group that should be a rock against the run after the Buckeyes finished first in the Big Ten and third in the nation against the run.

Leading the line is veteran left end Nathan Williams, a 6-3, 260-pound senior who led the team with 4.5 sacks to go along with 46 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss. Last year was about emerging as a key starter after serving as a pass rushing specialist, and he grew into a terrific all-around defender with big hitting ability and great closing ability. Built like a quick, physical linebacker more than a pure end, he moves extremely well and should do even more in the backfield. He’ll be backed up by Solomon Thomas, part of the Tattoo Five who’ll miss the first five games of the year but is expected to become a big factor when he gets back. At 6-5 and 255 pounds, the fifth-year senior has the size and bulk to be a top end, but only has 23 tackles in three years and no sacks. However, he came up with one very big interception to seal the Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas.

Working on the other side of Williams at right end will be a variety of players with 6-4, 302-pound sophomore Adam Bellamy getting a long look. A great fit for a 3-4 end, he’s not a top pass rushing prospect, and he could end up being a tweener type who works inside and out after making 11 tackles and two tackles for loss in his limited time. He isn’t the typical Ohio State five-star monster prospect for the line, but he’s always going to give a big effort and moves well enough to get into the backfield from time to time on want-to. Also getting a shot will be 6-5, 270-pound sophomore Melvin Fellows, a one-time top prospect who didn’t do anything last year. Healthy, stronger, and ready to be a part of the rotation, he should be a rock against the run when he gets his chances.

Able to work inside or out is junior John Simon, a tough, talented interior presence who earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors with 41 tackles, three sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. While he’s not massive at 6-2 and 270 pounds, he’s strong enough to more than hold his own against the run while being just quick enough and active enough to make things happen on hustle. A weight room star with a non-stop motor, he’ll be fine either as a starting tackle or at end on the other side of Williams.

About to emerge as a star is 6-3, 325-pound sophomore Johnathan Hankins, a massive prospect who made 16 tackles and a sack in his limited time but showed this offseason that he’s ready to be the anchor. Not just a brick wall, he has the athleticism to become a factor in the backfield from time to time. He’ll likely handle one tackle job, if Simon isn’t starting inside, while 6-3, 290-pound junior Garrett Goebel will take the other. A backup behind Hayward last season, he made nine tackle in a limited role on the field, but was terrific off of it earning academic all-star honors. Very strong and very quick off the ball, he has the size and the ability to become a dangerous interior pass rusher as well as a quick and active run stopper.

Watch Out For … Hankins. He showed tremendous promise and potential in his first season, and this offseason he showed enough to be the new star of the defensive front. Ohio State usually employs 290ish-pound versatile linemen, but Hankins is a pure tackle.
Strength: Size. Positions don’t really matter on the OSU defensive front. Williams is an end, Hankins is a tackle, and everyone else gets on the line and makes plays. Simon and Bellamy fit inside or out. This is a big line that’s going to be a rock against the run … again.
Weakness: Pass rush. Williams is a good pass rusher and everyone up front can generate a push into the backfield, but there isn’t a Vernon Gholston-like killer who’ll spend his Saturdays sitting on quarterbacks’ heads. The Buckeyes were second in the Big Ten in sacks, but finished 76th in the nation with just 23 as a team. The line wasn’t anything more than mediocre when it came to tackles for loss.
Outlook: Heyward and Larimore were solid, and they both had their moments in big games, but they were hardly consistent. With plenty of versatile options and good veterans ready to play bigger roles, the line will once again be a strength. The pass rush could stand to be better, but no one’s going to run on this group.
Unit Rating: 8


State of the Unit: Ohio State has no problems rebuilding and reloading at linebacker with wave after wave of talented players flowing through the program. However, finding leaders like Ross Homan and Brian Rolle will be a problem. The two combined for 148 tackles with Rolle leading the team and Homan finishing second, and now it’s time for some very promising, very high-end former recruits to show that they’re ready to take over.

The lone returning starter is senior Andrew Sweat, a 6-2, 238-pound senior who overcame a knee injury and an early concussion to be the starter on the strongside. He finished with 41 tackles as he grew into the job, and now he’ll get a long look on the weakside where he can do more in space. While he might still play on the strongside again, he’ll produce no matter where he works and he won’t make a slew of big mistakes.

Combining in a backup rotation on the weakside will be 6-3, 220-pound junior Jonathan Newsome and 6-0, 210-pound senior Tyler Moeller. Newsome made 15 tackles and was a key special teamer, but he has the range and speed to become a dangerous pass rushing threat on the outside. Moeller spent last year at safety, and could move back there again, after making 20 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss with a pick in just five games of work. Told he might never play football again after being attacked and suffering a major head injury, he came back and showed that everything was just fine before getting knocked out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle.

The pressure is on junior Etienne Sabino to produce after sitting out last season. There weren’t any health issues and nothing was really wrong, but he ended up redshirting despite looking unstoppable at times in offseason practices. However, he was inconsistent and didn’t always look ready to play up to his immense talent. A strongside linebacker who was beaten out by Sweat for the job last year, now Sabino is a 6-3, 242-pound rock with next level athleticism and range to work in the middle. If he’s not one of the team’s leading tacklers, there will be a problem. 6-1, 238-pound sophomore Jordan Whiting only made two tackles in his limited time, and now he’ll get every shot at the backup job in the middle … after he serves his one game suspension for his part in the tattoo parlor fiasco. If Sabino moves to the outside, Whiting could end up taking over the starting gig.

Possibly seeing time in the middle if he doesn’t start on the strongside is junior Storm Klein, a 6-2, 240-pound backup to Rolle on the inside making 18 tackles with a tackle for loss. Big, athletic, and very, very talented, he has all-star potential now that the starting job is his. A 6,000-yard high school running back who was also a star punter and a superior wrestler, he’s a gamer. If Klein plays in the middle, 5-10, 220-pound senior Tony Jackson will get a shot at the strongside job. He didn’t do much last season with just nine tackles, but the former walk-on he’s a big hitter who has waited for his time to be a major part of the rotation.

Watch Out For … Sabino. He’s out of central casting, but while he looks the part of a next-level linebacker, he needs to bring the effort and the production on every play. After sitting out last year, he appears to be ready to dominate.
Strength: Versatility. Call this the buzzword for the Buckeyes with the offensive and defensive linemen full of options who can move around to fill spots, and the same is true for a linebacking corps that can move around the parts without a problem. Sweat can play any of the three positions, Sabino can play inside or out, and Klein fits in wherever he’s needed.
Weakness: Rolle and Homan. Yeah, Ohio State rolls out linebackers without a problem, and just when it seems like the defense can’t replace a star, two more pop up. But in this year of all years, the team needs as many steady leaders as possible. It would’ve been nice to have veterans like Rolle and Homan to count on considering five of the team’s top six tackler are gone.
Outlook: Klein and Sweat will put up big numbers, but the key to the season could be Sabino. It’s all there for him to blossom into something special, and if the light goes on he’ll be the difference maker the front seven needs. The interchangeable parts will always allow the OSU linebacking corps to field three great players, but leaders have to emerge and consistency will be a must for the green corps.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The Buckeyes have several major holes to fill on various units, but the secondary has to overcome more mega-losses than in any other area. Devon Torrence and Jermale Hines combined for 118 tackles and three picks, and they’re both gone. Chimdi Chekwa came up with a team-leading three interceptions and nine broken up passes and he’s also gone. The Big Ten’s No. 1 pass defense finished eighth in the nation, and was fourth in pass efficiency defense. Now it’s overhaul time.

The lone returning starter is a good one. Junior Orhian Johnson can play either safety spot but is at his best as a strong safety making 50 tackles with an interception and two broken up passes. At 6-2 and 205 pounds he has great size and the range to get all over the field, but he has to stay healthy and he has come up with more big plays when the ball is in the air.

If Johnson plays strong safety, then 6-1, 200-pound sophomore Jamie Wood will likely take over the free safety job. Big, fast, and a great hitter, he made 13 tackles as a key backup. He still has to show he has the ball-hawking ability to keep the job, and he has to show he can make teams pay who throw his way.

Junior C.J. Barnett grabbed the starting strong safety job early on last year and made five tackles before suffering a knee injury. Able to play at either safety spot, the 6-0, 190-pounder is a big hitter with great cutting ability and next-level skills, but he has to show that he’s all back full after the injury. He’ll play somewhere, while 5-9, 190-pound sophomore Christian Bryant will be a key backup and top nickel defender after seeing time as a true freshman who made ten tackles with a broken up pass before missing time with a foot problem. He showed enough to earn more time and more of a look for a starting job, but this year he’ll mostly be a fifth defensive back in the rotation.

5-10, 191-pound sophomore Dominic Clarke was a good special teamer in his first year on the field and he looked great at times when he got in at corner. Quick, very smart, and ready to make a name for himself as one of the team’s next great corners, he came up with 14 tackles with a pick. 5-11, 185-pound senior Dionte Allen doesn’t have the talent of Clarke, but he can move. The former Florida State four-star recruit struggled to stay healthy and was beaten out for a job, and now he’ll push for time on the left side.

Junior Travis Howard made 13 tackles before having problems with a shoulder injury. Good when the ball is in the air, he made two picks and came up with four broken up passes, and has seen special teams work, and now he’ll bring his great athleticism and 6-0, 190-pound size to the right corner job. He has decent size, great speed, and he can jump out of the stadium. Now he has to stay healthy. 6-0, 215-pound senior Nate Oliver is a free safety who’ll get a longer look at corner, and with 23 career stops he should provide a steady veteran backup to the rotation, while 6-0, 189-pound sophomore Corey Brown - who’s not to be confused with receiver, “Philly” Brown – is trying to come back from a knee injury after making five tackles.

Watch Out For … Clarke. The secondary needs a top cover-corner to emerge, and while Clarke might not be a top draft pick, he has excellent upside. If he’s not the team’s top playmaker, then Howard or Allen have to shine.
Strength: The schedule. Michigan State can bomb away, but the Buckeyes get four games to prepare for the home date. Wisconsin has a playmaker in Russell Wilson under center, and Purdue can always throw, but there are few high-octane passing teams on the slate. OSU’s pass defense might have put up great numbers, but it had problems with …
Weakness: Teams that can throw. No one bombed away on the Buckeye defense, but Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien completed 13-of-16 passes and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett helped the comeback with 277 yards and two touchdowns before the final pick. This year’s secondary doesn’t have the experience or the sure-thing talents that last year’s did.
Outlook: The pass rush isn’t going to help the cause, and there will be problems with three good starters needing to be replaced, but there’s speed, athleticism, and high school résumés to get excited about. The safety situation is in better shape than the corners with Barnett and Wood joining Johnson in a good rotation.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Sophomore Drew Basil has a big leg and will get his chances to drive it from deep, but he has to prove he can hit a kick after getting both his long attempts blocked last season> he’ll take over for the ultra-reliable Devin Barclay, who connected on 20-of-24 field goals. Basil has better range.

Returning to his punting job is junior Ben Buchanan, and he can also see time as a placekicker if needed. The Buckeyes might have finished 94th in the nation in net punting, but Buchanan averaged 41 yards per kick and put 15 inside the 20. He has a good leg, but he has to work better with the coverage team.

Running back Jaamal Berry was terrific on kickoff returns averaging 25.4 yards per try, while Jordan Hall was even better averaging 27.9 yards per pop with a score. Hall was decent as a punt returner, too, averaging 9.9 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Hall as a kickoff returner. Berry got the most work last year, but he’s going to be used more and more as a running back and might not get too many chances early on. Hall is deep down on the running back depth chart, but he’s a whale of a returner.
Strength: Kickoff returns. Hall was explosive busting out an 85-yard score against Michigan and doing a good job against Arkansas. Berry was also terrific, and while he didn’t hit the home run Hall did, he’ll average more than 25 yards per kick when he gets his chances.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Buckeyes weren’t bad at kickoff coverage outside of the two touchdowns allowed. The punt coverage team was miserable allowing 10.5 yards per try and a score.
Outlook: The pressure will be on Basil. While Ohio State isn’t going to be in too many close games, the difference between a great season and winning the Big Ten title could come down to Basil’s consistency. The punting game should be better with Buchanan a good kicker who needs more help from the coverage teams. The return games will be excellent again.
Unit Rating: 6.5

- 2011 Ohio State Preview | 2011 Ohio State Offense
- 2011 Ohio State Defense | 2011 Ohio State Depth Chart
- Ohio State Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006