2007 Ohio State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 5, 2007

Preview 2007 Ohio State Buckeye Defense

Ohio State Buckeyes

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Ohio State Preview | 2007 OSU Offense Preview
2007 OSU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Ohio State Preview 

What you need to know: A question mark last year thanks to a ton of turnover, the defense reloaded and should be fantastic as long as the tackles and safeties shine and a second corner emerges on the other side of Malcolm Jenkins. There are stars to build around, with Jenkins, LB James Laurinaitis and end Vernon Gholston among the best in the country, while there are emerging stars, as always around OSU, in like linebackers Larry Grant and Ross Homan and end Lawrence Wilson. Don't expect too many bells and whistles; this D will beat teams by simply being far more athletic.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: James Laurinaitis, 115
Sacks: Vernon Gholston, 8.5
Interceptions: James Laurinaitis, 5

Star of the defense: Junior LB James Laurinaitis
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DTs Todd Denlinger and Doug Worthington
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Lawrence Wilson
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Malcolm Jenkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Laruinaitis, 2) Jenkins, 3) LB Marcus Freeman
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, NFL measurables across the board
Weakness of the defense:
Sure-thing tackles and safeties

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The defense is loaded, but the line has a few issues with three new starters. The one returning starter is a burgeoning superstar in 6-4, 260-pound junior Vernon Gholston, who cranked out 49 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, and is on the verge of being an All-America talent. Banged up his first season, the 6-4, 260-pound pass rushing terror will be a top pro prospect after this year as long as he gets a little bit of help. If he's not double teamed, he'll wreak havoc.

On the other side will be 6-6, 270-pound junior Lawrence Wilson, a tackle-sized defender who made 18 tackles and three sacks in the rotation. He's seemingly been just this close to being a top producer, and now he'll get the chance with the full-time role. While he's not Will Smith, the former Buckeye star who went on to become a first round draft pick, he's a similar type of big end who can do it all.

The question marks will be inside where sophomores Doug Worthington and Todd Denlinger take over after seeing a little bit of time as freshmen. The 6-7, 274-pound Worthington is a former defensive end with excellent quickness and 4.75 speed in the 40, but he has to prove he can hold up against the run on a regular basis and has to show that the knee problems that plagued him two years ago are behind him.

The 6-3, 280-pound Denlinger showed excellent promise last year and earned a spot behind Patterson. He only made four tackles with two tackles for loss, but he has a world of upside with tremendous strength and speed for a player of his size. He has all the tools to grow into the next great Buckeye tackle.

Projected Top Reserves: Considered among the nation's best defensive end prospects when he came to Columbus, 6-5, 260-pound true sophomore Robert Rose is a promising backup behind Wilson at one end. He showed flashes of greatness in his first year with 3.5 sacks, and now should use his great combination of strength and speed to flourish in the rotation.

Adding yet another huge end to the mix will be 6-5, 275-pound junior Alex Barrow, who'll play behind Gholston after making eight tackles and a tackle for loss. Tremendously fast, he hit the weights hard over the last few years and now has grown into a tremendous prospect, after being a bit of an afterthought as a recruit. He's not Gholston, but he'll be a key starter before his career is up.

Adding more size to the inside is the little used 6-5, 310-pound junior Nader Abdallah behind Denlinger. He has the strength to go along with the size, but he has to become consistent and show off some of the quickness that made him a top recruit.

Watch Out For ... Wilson to flourish. The hype is starting to build around Gholston, and every opposing offensive coordinator will look to stop him first. Wilson hasn't shown he can be a consistent producer quite yet, but that could all quickly change early on as he'll be a bit overlooked.
Strength: Big ends. The top four ends in the rotation average over 265 pounds each. There are several teams across the country that would like to have that kind of size at tackle. The Buckeye ends aren't just big, they're fast.
Proven tackles. Quinn Pitcock had an underappreciated career on a national scale, and David Patterson was a good brick in the wall. They're not going to be easily replaced, even at a place like OSU that cranks out great linemen in bunches.
Outlook: The line might not be the same rock against the run it's been over the past few years, but the production will hardly fall off the map even though it has to replace three starters. The ends will be terrific and will be camped out in opposing backfields all season long. The tackles will need plenty of time to grow into their roles, and they'll get is with a relatively soft schedule before the season starts to kick in late in October.


Projected Starters: 6-3, 244-pound junior James Laurinaitis came from out of nowhere to become one of the nation's best defensive players, winning the Nagurski Award, with a team-leading 115 tackles with four sacks and five interceptions. Originally a starter on the outside, he flourished in the middle where he showed fantastic toughness and leadership. A monster hitter with three forced fumbles, he was all over the field making play after consistent play. Many will try to make him into another A.J. Hawk, and while he doesn't have anywhere near the same athleticism, he should be almost as productive by the time his career is over.

6-2, 242-pound junior Marcus Freeman was a can't-miss recruit with next-level written all over him, and then he suffered a knee injury and missed the 2005 season. He bounced back to shine on the outside with 71 tackles and a sack with six broken up passes, and now he should be on the verge of all-star honors on the weakside. He's big for the position, and tremendously fast with the type of talent that should make him a top NFL prospect before he's done.

Taking over on the strongside will be 6-3, 225-pound senior Larry Grant, a former star high school running back who went the JUCO route and became a superstar transfer. With 4.4 speed, he has phenomenal range and athleticism, and he's tough enough to play in the middle if something happens to Laurinaitis. A decent contributor early in the year, his production fell off the map late to finish with 18 tackles with an interception. A star this spring, he appears to be ready to blow up into a star.

Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Freeman will be 6-1, 237-pound sophomore Ross Homan, who could also see time at either outside spot. While he's not nearly the athlete Freeman is, he's a good, quick reserve who came up with 28 tackles and a sack as a true freshman. He's more than good enough to start if needed with great toughness and unlimited range.

6-2, 234-pound senior Curtis Terry is a speedster on the strongside behind Grant, making 17 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. More like a big defensive back, he has to do even more against the run and use his wheels to be a more disruptive all-around force.

Backing up Laurinaitis in the middle will be 6-3, 242-pound sophomore Austin Spitler, but he's versatile enough to see time at any of the three linebacking spots. Mostly a special teamer so far, making seven tackles, he should see a little more of a role on the defense because of his size, even if Laurinaitis almost never comes out.

Watch Out For ... Grant and Freeman. Laurinaitis isn't as good as he gets credit for, but he's good enough to be the star of the linebacking corps and take all the attention away from the defenders on the outside. Grant and Freeman could be special if they can put it all together for a full year.
Strength: NFL talent. On sheer measurables, Grant and Freeman are near-perfect pro prospects. Laurinaitis will have a long career at the next level, even if he's not a top ten type of prospect. The Buckeyes, as always, are loaded.
Proven, full-year production on the strongside. Grant has all the tools and all the upside, but now he has to prove he can be the type of consistent defender game in and game out that the defense can rely on. Terry is a good backup, but he's never had to be more than a reserve.
Outlook: The Penn State linebacking corps will be hailed by almost everyone as the best in the Big Ten, and rightly so, but the Buckeye two-deep might be even better and has even more potential to be dominant. Laurinatis and Freeman are sure-things, while Grant, Homan and Spitler will all be fantastic. This is a big, fast, talented group that should be among the best in America.
Rating: 9

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The secondary will start with 6-1, 202-pound junior Malcolm Jenkins, and go from there. One of the nation's best all-around defensive backs, and an almost certain top 50 draft pick whenever he comes out, he has size, 4.3 speed, and plenty of production with 55 tackles and four interceptions last season. He's the lock down corner everyone's looking for, and there isn't a more sure open field tackling defensive back in the Big Ten. Don't expect the stats to be that great; everyone will stay away from him.

The other corner spot is a question mark, with 6-1, 195-pound sophomore Donald Washington getting the first shot at the job. A very smart, very athletic playmaker last year, he came through with a big season making 41 tackles. Now he has to do more against the pass and has to get used to being picked on with everyone avoiding Jenkins.

Back at strong safety will be 6-1, 200-pound junior Jamario O'Neal, a decent veteran who made 30 tackles with an interception, but he's not the most consistent player. Tremendously fast, with the speed to play corner if needed, he tends to gamble a bit and would be a better fit at free safety if he wasn't such a big hitter and so supportive against the run.

It'll be up to 6-2, 210-pound junior Nick Patterson to take over the full-time free safety job after making five tackles. He's been around long enough to be comfortable with more work, and he has the 4.4 speed, strength and hitting ability to play either safety spot, but he has to put it all together and be consistent enough to provide good deep help.

Projected Top Reserves: Patterson is likely cemented as the starter going into fall practice, but 6-0, 205-pound sophomore Aaron Gant will push hard for time. Mostly a special teamer so far, he worked his way into the mix and finished with ten tackles. He plays more like a physical strong safety than a free safety.

Certain to be in the mix somewhere will be sophomore Anderson Russell a fantastic looking safety prospect who started out the season well with 16 tackles in five games before suffering a knee injury. If healthy, he'll likely be back in the starting mix at strong safety, where he started last year, but is fast enough to play free safety with 4.4 speed.

Sophomore Kurt Coleman saw a little bit of time as a true freshman making nine tackles, but his biggest play came on special teams with a blocked field goal against Bowling Green. Still untested as a safety, he'll have to prove he's ready to handle himself at strong safety if something happens to O'Neal.

Watch Out For ... Jenkins to be the next Ohio State defensive back top ten draft pick. While he hasn't generated as much of a national buzz as he should've after a huge season, that'll quickly change.
Strength: Corner size. Jenkins, Washington, Underwood and Andre Amos all are around 6-1 and around 185 pounds. They can all move, and they can all hit.
Safeties. Everyone assumes Ohio State always has All-America caliber safeties, but this could be one of the team's weakest areas early on. Call this a work in progress. O'Neal isn't anything special, and while Patterson should be decent, he has yet to prove he can be a good starter.
Outlook: There's Jenkins, and there's, well, Jenkins. The second corner spot will be an issue until Washington can prove he can break up a pass or two, and the safeties will miss Brandon Mitchell and needs O'Neal to be more of a playmaker. The pass rush will be so good that the overall pass defense numbers won't be bad, and there's speed and size to burn, but the group, outside of Jenkins, will have to make more big plays.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The kicking game will be one of the best in the nation with the return of sophomore placekicker Aaron Pettrey and sophomore punter A.J. Trapasso. Trapasso had a great year averaging 40.6 yards per kick with 17 put inside the 20. Pettrey appears to be the next in the long line of star kickers after a good first season hitting eight of 11 attempts including two from beyond 50 yards. He was automatic after the first few games of the year.

Watch Out For ... Ray Small to be a great replacement for Ted Ginn. While Ginn was an undeniable talent and was certainly explosive, he averaged 11.1 yards per punt return and 24.4 yards per kickoff return. Great numbers to be sure, but not elite of the elite. Small, if he's even competent, will get more than his share of chances to break off big plays.
Strength: Big legs. Trapasso and Pettrey had consistent first seasons and also showed off great range, and now they'll combine it all to come up with huge years.
The loss of Ginn. There's not much to worry about in the special teams, but Ginn was more than just a weapon, he made everyone worry about kicking to him.
Outlook: As always, the Ohio State special teams will be fantastic, and a key piece of the overall puzzle. Without the explosive offense of last year, there should be more of a return to Tressel ball. Semi-conservative offense, solid defense, and rock solid special teams. Almost no one will beat the Buckeyes in the third phase.
Rating: 8.5


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