Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN Ohio State Preview |
2008 Ohio State
2008 Ohio State
2008 Ohio State
2007 CFN Ohio State Preview |
2006 CFN Ohio State Preview
What you need to know:
Sackmaster Vernon Gholston and productive all-around LB Larry Grant
are gone. That's about the only negative on what was the nation's
best total and scoring defense. The stunning decisions by LB James
Laurinaitis and CB Malcolm Jenkins to return for their senior
seasons, when they would've been first round draft picks this year,
makes the already good-looking defense something special. All four
starters return to the secondary that helped lead the way for the
nation's best pass defense. Laurinaitis and running-mate Marcus
Freeman will make up for the potential issue at the third
linebacking spot, while Lawrence Wilson, Cameron Heyward, and
Thaddeus Gibson are great-looking ends who should be camped out in
opposing backfield. The key will be the tackles. Mediocre last
season, at least by Buckeye standards, Todd Denlinger, Doug
Worthington, Dexter Larimore and Nader Abdallah are expected to be
Tackles: James Laurinaitis, 121
Sacks: James Laurinaitis, 5
Interceptions: Malcolm Jenkins, 4
Star of the defense: Senior LB James Laurinaitis
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Dexter Larimore
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Malcolm Jenkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Laruinaitis, 2) Jenkins, 3)
LB Marcus Freeman
Strength of the defense: Experience, secondary, NFL measurables
across the board
Weakness of the defense:
Projected Starters: How do you replace the
14 sacks and all-around talent and production of a Vernon
Gholston? You don't but Ohio State has options to rotate around
and still get into the backfield. Bring in the guy who was
supposed to out-Gholston, Gholston, 6-4, 274-pound junior
Lawrence Wilson. The tackle-sized defender has been this
close to blossoming into a superstar, but he didn't get his
chance early on. Once he got the starting nod, he didn't have
any luck breaking his leg in the season opener. Healthy again,
he has the size, the motor, and the pass rushing ability to grow
into a superstar. Now is his time.
On the other side will be sophomore Cameron Heyward,
the son of the late NFL star Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. A
monstrous 6-6, 287-pound who has the agility and athleticism of
a much smaller player and the size to be a rock against the run.
He made 33 tackles, 2.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss as a true
freshman. A huge hitter who improved as the season went on, he's
expected to go from very good to special, but he'll have to
prove he can be the No. 1 guy with Vernon Gholston gone.
The defensive tackles were a question mark going into last year,
and they turned out to be the team's weakest link. 6-6,
276-pound junior Doug Worthington made 24 tackles and a
sack, but he took his lumps and now has a year of experience.
More of an oversized end playing on the inside, he can play
anywhere on the line and will move around where needed. With
4.75 speed in the 40, he has the step on the interior to grow
into a dangerous pass rusher.
6-2, 292-pound junior Todd Denlinger is one of the team's
strongest players, and now he has to play like it on the inside.
The starter for the first half of the year, he struggled after
suffering a knee injury finishing up with just 13 tackles and a
sack. While he's not huge, he has all the measurables with speed
and quickness to go along with his strength. There's no reason
he can't put it all together and become a special all-around
Projected Top Reserves: It takes
a lot to get head coach Jim Tressel raving, but he gushes when
it comes to the potential of 6-2, 300-pound sophomore Dexter
Larimore. With tremendous quickness and one of the team's
biggest players, he's a tough defender who'll beat people up on the
inside with more time. He made 16 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss in a
limited role, and he should be a major factor in the rotation behind Denlinger.
6-4, 300-pound senior Nader Abdallah will be a regular
behind Worthington after making 18 tackles and a sack as a
key backup. He struggled a bit with his consistency and he
hasn't lived up to his hype and billing after a tremendous high
school career, but the light appeared to go on this spring. He
has the tools, now he has to use them.
Is Thaddeus Gibson the next Vernon Gholston? No, but the
former linebacker has the speed and the pass rushing potential
to be productive in a supporting role. He made 11 tackles and a
sack, but he spent most of his time on special teams. Now he'll
play behind Wilson as a 6-2, 240-pound speed rusher.
Watch Out For ... Larimore. The big, talented
tackle has the moves of an end and the strength to hold his own
on the inside against the run. He'll spend a few games camped
out in opposing backfields.
Strength: Getting to the quarterback. Gholston might be gone, but his lost production will be made up
for by getting more from all four spots. Unlike last year, the
tackles will do a lot more to get into the backfield, while
Wilson and Heyward blossom with more
Weakness: Proven backup ends. Wilson and Heyward might be fine,
but they'll need Gibson and former walk-on
Tom Ingham to provide help in a rotation. There's help on the
way from the recruiting class, but the less they're needed, the
Outlook: How good is the defense? The
tackles, by OSU's high standards, had a bad year, Gholston was streaky, and top end prospect, Wilson, was
knocked out for the year with a broken leg and the D still
finished sixth in the nation in sacks, eighth in tackles for
loss, and third against the run. The scary part about it is that
now the tackles will be better. There's a good four-man rotation
that should be tremendous, while Wilson should blossom into a
Projected Starters: In one of the biggest
upsets of the 2008 season, James Laurinaitis decided to
come back for his senior season. In a weak year for linebackers,
he would've been the first one taken and a near-certain top 20
overall pick, but instead he now has a shot to finish up his
career as, arguably, one of the five greatest linebackers to
ever play college football. A winner of the Butkus Award as the
nation's best linebacker, and the Nagurski Award (in 2006) as
the nation's best defensive player, he has made 236 tackles, 17
tackles for loss, nine sacks and seven interceptions in the last
two seasons, highlighted by a 19-tackle day last year in the win
over Wisconsin. He made 18 stops in the national title loss to
LSU. Numbers don't begin to show just what he means to the
defense. A tough leader and versatile player able to operate
inside and out, and while he's not a freakish athlete, like A.J.
Hawk was, he has 6-3, 240-pound size and the range to make plays
all over the field.
While not the pro prospect James Laurinaitis is, 6-1, 239-pound
senior Marcus Freeman could've turned pro early after
finishing second on the team with 109 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 9.5
tackles for loss as he proved he was fully past the knee injury
that knocked him out for the entire 2005 season. While he could
stand to do a bit more against the pass on the weakside, he's
not bad covering running backs out of the backfield and is a
rock against the run. He was good from start to finish, but he
started to blow up late in the year with 14 stops against Penn
State, 18 against Illinois and 14 against LSU. He could still
stand to get a bit bigger, but with his speed and athleticism,
he's going to be a star as is.
Losing Larry Grant on the
strongside hurts. Senior Curtis
Terry might end up seeing too much time at fullback to be a
regular starter on the outside. Originally considered the main
challenger to take over the open starting strongside job, he
worked more and more on offense as spring ball went on and could
end up being too valuable to go back to the defense. He's a
6-1, 229-pound speedster who can also shine on special teams
after missing all of last year with an ankle injury.
Projected Top Reserves: There will be a rotation of players to fill
the hole on the strongside with sophomore Tyler Moeller getting
a shot. Undersized at 6-0 and 216 pounds, he's not big enough to
be a full-time rock against the run, but he's very quick and is
always around the ball. He's more physical than his size would
suggest, but he'll likely end up transitioning to the weakside
at some point in his career.
Working behind Freeman once again will be 6-0, 229-pound
sophomore Ross Homan after making 12 tackles and two
tackles for loss in four games. He has the speed and the
all-around talent to grow into a major factor, after making 28
tackles as a reserve in 2006, but he has to bounce back after
missing almost all of last year with a turf toe problem. He's
extremely tough with unlimited range.
It's hard to see too much action playing behind Laurinaitis, but junior Austin Spitler is still a good
reserve who'll make an impact on special teams as well as an
occasional fill-in in the middle. He made 26 tackles and a sack,
but he didn't do much to get into the backfield. A true middle
linebacker at 6-3, and 234 pounds, he's being groomed for the
2009 starting gig.
Watch Out For ... the strongside job to be a bit of
an issue. Whomever is in the spot will be helped by having Laurinaitis and Freeman picking up the slack, but it
would be nice if one player emerged. The position likely won't
be settled until the start of the season, if at all.
Strength: Laurinaitis and Freeman. An argument
could be made that the USC linebacking tandem of Rey Maualuga
and Brian Cushing might be the best in America, but Laurinaitis
and Freeman would be No. 1A, if not the best. These two make up
for a lot of mistakes made by the rest of the defense.
Weakness: Proven, full-year production on the strongside. Larry
Grant solved this problem last year, but now it's an issue
again. The overall stats will turn out fine, but it would be
nice if this could turn into a strength.
Outlook: With two All-America-caliber stars in Laurinaitis and Freeman, the linebacking corps will
be among the best in America. There are good backups to count on
in a pinch, but the starting strongside job will be the focus
until Moeller, or possibly Terry, takes
the gig by the horns.
Projected Starters: James Laurinaitis
returning for his senior season was a shock, and senior
Malcolm Jenkins coming back was a jaw-dropper. One of the
nation's best all-around defensive backs, the 6-1, 201-pound
All-American has the size, the 4.3 speed, and the tackling
ability making 47 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions.
He has 137 career stops with eight picks, and now he'll make
everyone's all-star team and be the premier cover-corner in
college football. Everyone will stay away from him, but they did
last year, too, and he still produced. His worth is more than
just stats; he erases everyone's No. 1 receiver.
Returning on the other side will
be junior Donald Washington after a productive 39-tackle,
one interception season. A very smart, very athletic playmaker
over his first two seasons, he held up well when teams were
staying away from Malcolm Jenkins. While he had problems this
spring and was suspended, sort of, for a while and might end up
missing a game or two this September depending on what he did
(the coaching staff is mum) and what the punishment is, he'll
still be one of the Big Ten's better No. 2 corners. He'd be a
No. 1 almost anywhere else.
Returning at strong safety is junior Kurt Coleman, a
tough 5-11, 192 pounder who was considered a backup going into
last year but finished up as the starter in every game making 64
tackles, third best on the team, with four broken up passes.
While he's not all that big, he's added some bulk and is
extremely strong for his size and is good at getting into the
backfield when sent. While he's an excellent open-field tackler,
he needs to do more when the ball is in the air.
Junior Anderson Russell is one of the team's most
experienced and versatile defensive backs. Able to shine at
either safety spot, he stepped into the free safety job and
started every game finishing fourth on the team with 63 tackles
and three sacks with five broken up passes. He proved he was
more than fine after suffering a knee injury as a freshman
showing off his 4.4 speed and full-throttle playing style. A
decent hitter at 6-0 and 205 pounds, now he has to pick off a
pass or two.
Projected Top Reserves: Expected to take over the
strong safety spot last year was senior Jamario O'Neal,
but he ended up getting pushed out of a spot by Coleman and
will now be a backup and special teamer again. Tremendously fast
and very versatile, he could play corner if needed, but he's too
good a hitter to not be a safety. He only made 14 tackles and
will make his biggest impact on special teams, but he can step
in from time to time anywhere in the defensive backfield.
With great potential, but still a bit green, is junior FS
Aaron Gant, who had problems with a foot injury and never
made much of an impact last year making just six tackles. A big
tackler, he should be fine against the run, but he needs playing
Looking to get into the corner mix are two good prospects,
redshirt freshman Eugene Clifford and sophomore Chimdi
Chekwa. They're both big, with the 6-2, 191-pound Clifford a
bit bigger, and they're both fast, with the 6-1, 188-pound
Chekwa a bit faster. Chekwa can do a little more and can move to
safety if needed, but he has the skills to become a shut-down
Clifford's a scary-good prospect with all the measurables, but he has to get out of the doghouse after being
suspended from the national title game last year after failing a
drug test. Tremendously strong, very athletic, and with a
phenomenal size/speed ration, he can do it all. Now he has to do
something after missing last year hurt.
Watch Out For ... a bit of an issue with suspensions
Washington, O'Neal, and
Clifford weren't technically suspended this
spring, and they practiced, but they were suspended. No one's
talking about why, and the speculation is rampant considering
Clifford's previous for failing a drug
test, and while he and O'Neal have been held out,
Washington has been practicing with the team.
Strength: Stopping the pass. Of course, that's
what the secondary is supposed to do. OSU was fourth in the
nation in pass efficiency defense and first overall in pass D
allowing a mere 150 yards per game. With all four starters
returning, expect more of the same.
Weakness: Interceptions. Malcolm Jenkins came up with four and
the rest of the secondary picked off a mere three. Coming up
with more takeaways isn't a must for this defense's success, but
it would be nice.
Outlook: There's a lot to be excited about as the
nation's best pass defense brings everyone back. As long as
there isn't a suspension problem with
Washington, O'Neal, and
in the doghouse this
off-season, everything should be fine. Jenkins should be
in the NFL right now, but he'll be an All-America shut-down
performer no one will want to throw at. There are strong
backups, next-level starters, and for so much returning
experience, enough youth to build around for next year, too.
More interceptions would be nice, and everyone will have to do
more with the pass rush to likely be a little bit weaker, but
there's no reason to worry.
Projected Starters: Aaron
Pettrey was supposed to be the next great Buckeye kicker, and then
senior Ryan Pretorius stepped in and became a star nailing 18 of
23 field goals including a 50-yarder. When he got the ball off, he
nailed it missing just one attempt, but he got four blocked. The walk-on from South Africa is a great athlete and has
a good leg, but not a cannon. He can hit from 50 yards, but he doesn't
have much more range. That's nitpicking; he'll be among the best in
Senior A.J. Trapasso has been excellent for the last four years
averaging 40.9 yards per kick over his first three seasons and put 21
inside the 20 last year. With consistent accuracy and the leg to bomb
the offense out of jams when needed, he should be an all-star and in the
mix for the Ray Guy Award.
Ohio State usually has a tremendous return game, but it was awful last
year on kickoff returns averaging a mere 17.65 yards per try. Maurice
Wells and Ray Small will try to improve after struggling to
break anything, while receiver Brian Robiskie will likely take
over the punt return duties from Small. Robiskie only got seven tries,
but he averaged 8.6 yards per attempt. Brian Hartline could see a
few tries as well after averaging 11.4 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... Pretorius to be a Lou Groza
finalist and Trapasso to be a Ray Guy finalist. These two are
special kickers who'll be major weapons once again.
Strength: Big legs. Trapasso and Pettrey were
consistent, showed good range, and don't miss. The only way to stop them
is to block their boots.
Weakness: The return game. Small wasn't the answer. There's
too much speed and too much talent up and down the Buckeye lineup to be
this bad again.
Outlook: The kicking game should be the best in
America with Trapasso certain to average over 40 yards per punt and
Pretorius a near-lock to hit around 80% of his field goal tries.
The coverage teams could stand to be a bit better, but they're hardly
going to be a liability. The big issue is the return game. The punt
return production was non-existent at times, while the kickoff returns
weren't anything special. If OSU improves in both areas, there won't be
any real knocks on the entire team.