2012 Ohio State Preview – Defense
Ohio State DE John Simon
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Ohio State Buckeye Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers are about to take a good defense and make it special. It's not like the young D was bad last season – it finished 19th in the nation and allowed just 21 points per game – but it was inconsistent and didn't seem to be able to put the clamps down in close games. That shouldn't be a problem this season with nine returning starters led by a deep and loaded secondary that should be among the best in the country, and a defensive front with two future NFL stars in tackle Johnathan Hankins and end John Simon. The underwhelming linebacking corps might not be up to normal Ohio State snuff, but it's experienced and has young talents in Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant to get excited about.
Star of the defense: Junior DT Johnathan Hankins
Tackles: C.J. Barnett, 75
Sacks: John Simon, 7
Interceptions: Orhian Johnson, Bradley Roby, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore MLB Curtis Grant
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Bradley Roby
Best pro prospect: Hankins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hankins, 2) DE John Simon, 3) S C.J. Barnett
Strength of the defense: Experience, Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Consistency
The line has to be stronger against the run and more productive overall, and it has to start in the middle. One of the most active and productive all-around tackles in college football, junior Johnathan Hankins tied for third on the team with 67 tackles to go along with three sacks and 11 tackles for loss. At 6-4 and 317 pounds he has tremendous size and shocking quickness off the ball, able to both be an anchor against the run while also dominating as an interior pass rusher. Steady, he came up with a great midseason stretch and was at his best in the biggest games. The defense will work around him once again, and with others on the line taking some of the attention away, he should once again be a statistical superstar.
Hankins will be the star inside, but it'll be senior John Simon who gets all the attention on the end after leading the team with seven sacks, 16 tackles for loss and 53 stops. The 6-2, 260-pound veteran is tough and versatile able to work as smallish tackle if absolutely needed or as a hard-working pass rusher, he's excellent against the run and has a non-stop motor to get into the backfield. A weight room superstar, he's extremely strong and he's able to hold his own against any offensive tackle. He doesn't get shoved around, and he's just quick enough to get around the edge from time to time.
There will be an excellent combination on the other side of Simon with 6-4, 292-pound junior Adam Bellamy like an extra tackle and 6-3, 249-pound senior Nathan Williams a dangerous pass rusher when healthy. Bellamy isn't going to fly around into the backfield, but he has the intensity ramped up all the time and is productive against the run making 25 tackles with one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Williams has been a terrific all-around defender but he suffered a knee injury that required two surgeries. He only made two tackles in his one appearance before going down, but he got hurt early enough that he should be back to form as a key part of the rotation.
Hankins might be the team's best tackle, but it's 6-4, 285-pound senior Garrett Goebel who's holding down the nose. An academic all-star, he's smart, doesn't make mistakes, and is steady making 33 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. There's nothing flashy about his game, but he's a strong grinder who can hold up well. He'll be backed up by massive 6-4, 358-pound freshman Chris Carter, an extremely strong, extremely big body who could play on the offensive line if absolutely needed but should eventually be a key anchor on the defensive front.
Watch Out For … Williams. He was out this offseason still trying to get healthy after his knee issues, but if he's able to somehow get back to where he used to be, all of a sudden the pass rush with Simon on the other side goes to a whole other level.
Strength: Experience. Assuming Williams is back at some point, all of a sudden the line is loaded with great depth and several options to go along with four returning starters. This is a big, big group that will know what it's doing.
Weakness: Production … for Ohio State. The line should be far better and far stronger this season, but it was average at getting into the backfield last season and was stunningly average at times against the run. The talent and experience might be there, and now the consistency has to follow.
Outlook: Expect a huge difference. The line wasn't awful last season, but it wasn't the dominant force that Ohio State's front four usually is. With so much talent and so much experience, consider it a shocker if the coaching staff doesn't crank up this group into the best line in the Big Ten.
Unit Rating: 8.5
6-2, 226-pound sophomore Ryan Shazier came to Ohio State as a safety, moved to linebacker immediately, and he turned into a nice playmaker coming up with 57 tackles with three sacks and five tackles for loss. With his defensive back athleticism he flies all over the field, and now he appears ready to do even more against the run after beefing up a bit and looking more like a real linebacker rather than a safety playing up. He'll start on the weakside where he should be one of the team's leading tacklers.
The middle situation needs to be stronger and now it's missing any quality depth. 6-3, 235-pound sophomore Curtis Grant takes on a bigger role now with Storm Klein dismissed from the team. Grant didn't see too much time in his first year making just two tackles, but he was one of the team's top recruits and considered the nation's top middle linebacker prospect. Senior Storm Klein started ten times last season but struggled a bit on the field and now has bigger problems off of it after being arrested and charged with domestic violence and assault. He pleaded not guilty, but he was still kicked off the team until the situation plays itself out. He made 45 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss, but he wasn't a difference maker. At 6-2 and 242 pounds he has the size and he's an athlete – he was a 6,000-yard high school running back – but if he somehow ends up being back on the team he won't be more than a part of a rotation.
Senior Etienne Sabino has had an up-and-down career, and now it's his time to finish off with a bang. The 6-3, 237-pound veteran sat out all of 2010 but came back last season to make 62 tackles with two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss becoming more of a playmaker. A big-time talent coming out of high school, he has shown flashes but has mostly been inconsistent on the outside.
Watch Out For … Grant. Klein was serviceable in the middle, but the Buckeyes need their middle linebacker to be spectacular. Grant has all the talent in the world but didn't do anything with it as a freshman. If he can settle into the job and relax a bit, he could quickly grow into an All-Big Ten star.
Strength: Experience. With the emergence of Sabino and Shazier, now the Buckeyes have plenty of veterans to hope for more production. The line should be better, so the linebackers don't have to carry the front seven.
Weakness: Playing up to the talent. The Buckeyes are loaded with a who's who of top linebacker recruits who haven't quite lived up to the billing. It's not like the linebackers were awful, but they weren't the positive they needed to be. They have to be more spectacular than steady.
Outlook: Shazier has superstar potential and Grant has all the skills to grow into the role to give OSU a devastating pair for the next three years, but now the overall production has to come from the unit. There will be chances for a slew of freshmen to make an impact, but the team needs Grant and Sabino to come up big next to Shazier.
Unit Rating: 7
The secondary came up with a solid season, and this year it has the potential to be truly special with all four starters returning along with a ton of quality depth. 6-1, 202-pound junior C.J. Barnett led the team with 75 tackles with two picks and six broken up passes coming off a knee injury that knocked him out in 2010. Big enough and versatile enough to play either safety spot, he's a big hitter with great cutting ability and sound tackling ability. Extremely steady and consistent, the second-team All-Big Ten should be a rock. He'll be backed up by junior Corey Brown, a 6-1, 197-pound junior who came back from a knee injury to make four tackles in a limited role.
Returning to the other safety job if 5-10, 190-pound junior Christian Bryant, a whopper of a hitter for his size making 68 stops with eight broken up passes. A great nickel defender earlier in his career, he's a natural who's always around the ball and always seems to be a step ahead of the play. Also in the rotation is veteran Orhian Johnson, who followed up a 50-tackle season with 32 tackles with three picks and a broken up pass. At 6-3 and 190 pounds he's big and solid range, but while he's good enough to see time as a nickel defender and as a third safety, he'll be great in the rotation.
5-11, 190-pound sophomore Bradley Roby came from out of nowhere to be arguably the team's best corner taking over the starting gig early and making 47 tackles while tying for the team lead with three picks and six broken up passes. Extremely quick and great at fighting to make a play, he might not have special skills but he's going to be an all-star.
Senior Travis Howard returns to a starting corner spot after making 41 tackles with two picks and five broken up passes. At 6-1 and 196 pounds he has excellent size and a nose for the ball with great athleticism, leaping ability and speed. He'll work in a rotation with 5-11, 188-pound sophomore Doran Grant, a terrific prospect who made six tackles after getting his feet wet but has the potential to be special. An Ohio state champion sprinter and hurdler, speed isn't an issue.
Watch Out For … Roby. Ohio State is always loaded with four-and-five star talents, but Roby wasn't expected to be a special defensive back when he signed on. Now he's looking like the potential star of the show.
Strength: Experience. All four starters are back and the second team could step in and start without too much of a drop off. It's a loaded group that's young enough to still be improving.
Weakness: Completion percentage. The Buckeyes didn't give up a 300-yard game and didn't get roasted, but it allowed opposing passers to hit 61% of their throws with 18 touchdowns. Michigan and Florida combined to complete 26-of-37 passes over the last two games.
Outlook: The secondary should be the strength of an improving defense. There are plenty of options, lots of young talent, and plenty of speed and quickness across the board. The Buckeye secondary has the potential to be among the best in the country if the defensive front gets to the quarterback a little bit more.
Unit Rating: 9
Junior kicker Drew Basil has a big leg, but it didn't show it off much last season missing a 50-yarder and with his longest kick coming from 47 yards out. However, after missing his first two kicks he nailed 16 of his next 17 – with the 50-yarder the lone miss – and showed he was ultra-consistent and reliable.
The punting game wasn't too bad yardage-wise, but senior Ben Buchanan was even stronger than his 41.3 average forcing 25 fair catches and putting a whopping 27 inside the 20. The Buckeyes allowed a mere 6.6 yards per punt return partly because Buchanan was so good at doing his job.
The return game needs to find other options with injured running back Jordan Hall out for a bit after averaging 5.8 yards per punt return and 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Receivers Devin Smith and Chris Fields can pick up the slack with Fields averaging 17.6 yards per punt return helped by a 69-yarder for a score and Smith averaging 21.5 yards per kickoff return.
Watch Out For … the returners. Hall wasn't anything special on punt returns but he was elite on kickoffs. He'll eventually be back, but for the time being the Buckeyes will have to work in some of the other speedsters.
Strength: Reliable kickers. Buchanan improved the punting game by leaps and bounds last season, and after a rocky start to his career Basil has turned into a weapon.
Weakness: The Gator Bowl. Just when it looked like the special teams were going to finish up with a great year, there were breakdowns against Florida in the Gator Bowl loss highlighted by allowing a kickoff return for a score. The Buckeyes also got an extra point blocked against Purdue leading to the overtime loss. The mistakes can't lead to losses.
Outlook: A major weakness turned into a big strength last season with the kicking game looking solid and the returners good enough to be dangerous. Hall might be out, but everyone else of note is back for a group that should be among the Big Ten's best special teams units.
Unit Rating: 8
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