2009 Ohio State Preview - Defense
Ohio State SS Kurt Coleman
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Ohio State Buckeye Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
It's hard to call the nation's 14th best defense a
disappointment, but it wasn't quite the killer it was supposed
to be. However, the Buckeyes allowed a mere 13.92 points per
game and gave up more than 21 points to two teams, USC and
Texas. This year's D loses all the star power at linebacker, and
All-America corner Malcolm Jenkins, but it comes back loaded on
the defensive front, especially on the ends. Thaddeus Gibson is
about to blossom into a superstar pass rusher on one end, while
Cameron Heyward has first round draft pick potential on the
other side. Three starters return to the secondary led by corner
Chimdi Chekwa, who should be the star now that Jenkins is gone.
The spotlight will be on the linebacking corps that loses James
Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, and while there aren't any
stars, Austin Spiller and Ross Homan lead a rock-solid group
that should be more than fine.
Tackles: Kurt Coleman, 78
Sacks: Thaddeus Gibson, 5
Interceptions: Kurt Coleman, 4
Star of the defense:
Junior DE Thaddeus Gibson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Brian Rolle
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Cameron Heyward
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gibson, 2) Heyward, 3)
SS Kurt Coleman
Strength of the defense: Defensive End, Veteran Defensive
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker Experience,
Sure-Thing No. 2 Corner
loaded on the outside with the best of the bunch likely to be
Thaddeus Gibson, a 6-2, 240-pound junior who's
a blur into the backfield and polished enough to be the team's
breakout star. The former linebacker doesn't have the freakish
skills of a Vernon Gholston, but he showed just a glimpse of his
potential last season with a team-leading five sacks and nine
tackles for loss to go along with 26 tackles. Now that he knows
what he's doing, he's a legitimate threat for double-digit
Working on the other side will be Cameron
Heyward, a 6-6, 287-pound junior who started the first
three games of last year but didn't end up taking a big step
forward. The son of the late NFL star Craig "Ironhead" Heyward
had a good first season with 33 tackles with 2.5 sacks and ten
tackles for loss, and while he was fine last year making 36
tackles with three sacks, he wasn't quite as strong into the
backfield. He has the tools and the potential to be special
either inside or out, and he could get a long look from the NFL
types as a 3-4 end if he can come up with a better junior
It takes something special to be singled out by
head coach Jim Tressel as a phenomenal prospect on the defensive
line, and 6-2, 300-pound junior Dexter Larimore
has the ability to back up his coach's praise. With the
quickness and speed of a much smaller player, Larimore moves
extremely well and, as a former state champion wrestler, has the
toughness to maul offensive linemen. However, the light hasn't
gone on yet making a mere 15 stops last year with two sacks and
three tackles for loss. He has way too much talent to not be in
the backfield more.
Senior Doug Worthington
is a true plugger. He's not a big stat-sheet filler at
tackle, even though he came up with a solid 34 tackles with five
tackles for loss last season, but he has the potential to do far
more. With 4.75 speed in the 40, the 6-6, 276-pounder is a big
end playing inside, and he can move around wherever he's needed.
Unless something crazy happens, he'll spend his year only on the
inside and will be one of the keys to the run defense. He's not
exactly an anchor, but he doesn't get shoved around.
Projected Top Reserves:
Senior Lawrence Wilson started the first half
of last year on the end and finished with a solid 18 tackles
before getting hurt. At 6-4 and 274 pounds, he has the size of a
tackle and the closing ability to become a dangerous pass
rusher, but it hasn't happened yet. He suffered a broken leg two
years ago and missed the entire season, and last year he
suffered a knee injury that'll limit him throughout the firs
tpast of this year.
Also looking for time on the end is
6-3, 245-pound sophomore Nathan Williams, a
promising pass rusher who was limited this offseason with a
hamstring injury, but is expected to be fine this fall. A huge
hitter, he's like a physical linebacker on the line and he
should be a disruptive force after making 18 tackles with two
sacks and four tackles for loss as a key reserve.
Todd Denlinger is one of the team's strongest
players and a good spot-starter who has been great when he's on
the field. Injuries have been the issue for the 6-2, 292-pounder
suffering a knee injury that limited him at times last season.
Healthy now and seemingly better and more athletic than ever, he
could be poised for a breakout final campaign after making just
seven tackles last season.
Watch Out For ... Gibson.
A strong pass rusher who showed off what he could do with the
full-time job, he was even quicker and more productive this
offseason as he abused the Buckeye offensive line. While Heyward
might be the higher rated pro prospect as an end, Gibson could
be a dangerous tweener who plays outside linebacker in a 3-4 at
the next level.
Strength: The ends. The pass rush was fine last
year, but it wasn't special and many of the plays in the
backfield came from the linebackers. This year the ends should
do the job. Gibson is a burgeoning superstar, while Heyward has
the ability to make plays in bunches. There's great depth to
keep a nice rotation going and to keep everyone fresh.
Tackle production. The tackles
have been good, but they weren't quite as dominant as they
needed to be last year. Worthington and Heyward are each
oversized ends who see time inside, while Larimore hasn't been
the dominator he's been expected to become. Denlinger is a good
one, but he has to stay healthy.
Ohio State has had one of the nation's best
defenses over the last few years even though the line production
has been spotty at times and the tackles have been mediocre.
This should be the year when the front four carries the defense
(it'll have to) with several great ends for the rotation and
veteran tackles who should be ready to step up and shine after a
few years of getting shoved around in key moments.
All Austin Spitler
has to do is step in and become James Laurinaitis, but
there's no pressure there. The 6-3, 234-pound senior has been
the understudy to Laurinaitis over the last few years and now
will get the start in the middle after making 11 tackles in a
reserve. He's not going to make a ton of big plays, and there's
absolutely nothing flashy about him, but he'll make every stop
that comes his way and he knows what he's doing. He has spent
years preparing for this season, and he's ready to become one of
the team's leading tacklers.
The other big hole loss is
Marcus Freeman, who made 84 stops in an all-star season.
Ross Homan has been a killer on special teams and a
nice spot starter making 67 tackles with a sack and six tackles
for loss as the third linebacker in the mix throughout last
year. His problem is staying healthy after missing most of 2007
with a turf toe problem and having problems with a hamstring
this offseason. When he's in, he makes every play possible
without a lot of fanfare. The 6-0, 229-pound junior is a good,
sound defender who does what he needs to.
call on the strongside, at least early on, should be 6-0,
216-pound junior Tyler Moeller, an undersized
defender who uses his tremendous quickness to always be around
the ball. More physical than his size might indicate, he's not
afraid to mix it up and he's good at shedding blockers. A
safety/linebacker who plays the hybrid Star position at times,
he's coming off an 18-tackle season and should blossom with more
Projected Top Reserves:
If it's not Moeller on the outside it'll
be Brian Rolle, a 5-11, 221-pound junior who
came up with a tremendous spring. While there isn't a whole
bunch of bells and whistles in the OSU linebacking corps, Rolle
is the one who'll provide the spark with an aggressive style who
loves to come up with the big hit. He made 21 tackles last year
and should push for time in the middle and on the weakside.
He'll find a spot somewhere.
Also coming off a strong
offseason is Etienne Sabino, a big 6-3,
232-pound option for the strongside. Able to move to the middle
if needed, and saw most of his time there this spring, he stuffs
everything that comes his way. The sophomore needs more playing
time and he'll make a slew of mistakes, but he's a good prospect
who'll make some noise over the next three years.
220-pound true freshman Dorian Bell was
considered among the nation's best linebacker recruits and
should be thrown into the lineup right away. With unlimited
range and great pass rushing potential, he's a do-it-all
playmaker for the outside. Also a running back in high school,
he's extremely quick and can cut on a dime, while he's physical
enough to beat up ball carriers as a big-hitting defender.
Watch Out For ... Rolle. Possibly the key piece to
the puzzle, Rolle is the attacker in the group full of
unremarkable, but ultra-reliable defenders. He can play inside
or out and will move around if needed. At the very least he'll
be a vital backup.
Strength: Recruiting. There might not be any
household names in the corps compared to the last few years, but
there are plenty of four and five-star recruits who have been
waiting for their turns to shine. This isn't a big crew, but
everyone can hit and there's limitless range no matter what the
Weakness: Proven full-time production. It's Ohio State so
there's talent at linebacker, but outside of Homan there isn't a
lot to bank on when it comes to past production. There are tons
of good prospects and there's plenty of potential, but it might
take a little while for this group to jell.
Outlook: It's not going to be the linebacking
corps of the last few years, and there won't be a whole slew of
big plays in the backfield, but it'll be a sound, reliable group
that won't make a ton of mistakes and will keep the running
plays to a minimum.
The secondary is loaded with
one major hole: Malcolm Jenkins. The first round draft pick will
be tough to replace, but senior Andre Amos will
give it a shot. With 6-1, 183-pound size and time in the system,
he knows what he's doing and he has the look of a good cover
corner. However, bad knees have kept him off the field for long
stretches and limited him to one game of action last year. When
he's healthy, he's a good one.
The team's new top
cover-corner is Chimdi Chekwa, a nice
all-around defender who had a nice 30-tackles season with a pick
and four broken up passes, but he didn't get any of the
spotlight with Jenkins on the other side. Phenomenal in the open
field, he doesn't miss tackles and has proven he can handle
himself well without much safety help. The 6-0, 188-pound junior
should be an All-Big Ten performer who'll make teams pay for
Senior Kurt Coleman
is the leading returning tackler making 78 stops with a
team-leading four interceptions and five broken up passes at
strong safety. While he's not huge at 5-11 and 188 pounds, he
has linebacker strength and is good at getting into the
backfield when sent. The knock on him last year was that he
wasn't good enough against the pass, and he made himself a
better pass defender. He'll work to correct his problems and
he'll make several plays just by outhustling everyone else.
6-0, 205-pound senior
Anderson Russell is a good veteran free safety who's
versatile enough to play either safety spot and could be a
superstar as a nickel back. Along with his size he has 4.5
speed, but he appeared to have lost a half-step after suffering
a knee injury two years ago. While he made 67 tackles with two
picks and three tackles for loss, and was a big enough hitter to
force three fumbles, but he has average ball skills and would be
far better suited to strong safety where he could spend more of
his time stopping the run.
Projected Top Reserves: Will Corey Brown,
the team's top recruit, play corner, wide receiver, or both?
Will he see time right away? The 6-0, 180-pounder it
exceptionally fast and is brilliant at tracking down the ball. A
home-run hitting receiver in high school and a stopper of a
corner, he has the skills to eventually be a star in some way.
If the corners struggle early on, he could step in.
team's best backup corner is Devon Torrence,
but he's not just a good defensive player, he's a star center
fielder who was drafted by the Houston Astros. The 6-1,
193-pound junior will see most of his time as a fifth and sixth
defensive back, like last year, when he made ten tackles, but he
showed enough this offseason to warrant a look at a starting
The team's top backup safety for both spots was
supposed to be senior Aaron Gant after making
seven tackles in a limited role, but he suffered knee injury and
wasn't able to do much. The 6-0, 194-pounder also had problems
with a foot injury two years ago, but when he's right, he's a
big hitter and an intimidating presence. At least he's been one
Watch Out For ... the second corner spot. Amos has
talent and size, but he doesn't have good knees and will be
tough to count on for a full season. If he's not right, then
it'll be a scramble hoping for Torrence or redshirt freshman
Travis Howard will be good enough to step in and produce.
isn't a Jenkins on the team, but as long as Amos and Torrence
are fine, the second corner job might not be a big problem.
Chekwa, Coleman and Russell have been in the biggest games and
under the brightest lights. They're not going to wilt.
Weakness: The safeties against the pass. This might seem strange
considering OSU was 13th in the nation in pass efficiency
defense and 25th in the country in pass defense, but against the
teams that could actually throw, like Texas and USC, the
safeties were shredded. Coleman has gotten better, but he's not
necessarily a superstar when the ball is in the air, while
Russell has hands of stone. They're fine and will be among the
Big Ten's better safety tandems. This is nitpicking.
Outlook: The nation's best pass defense in 2007
brought everyone back, but was a bit disappointing. It was fine,
but it wasn't the brick wall expected. With three starters
returning and a ton of speed among the reserves, there's a good
chance the secondary will be as good as it was last year as long
as there are more picks and a few more big plays. This is a good
group of defensive backs that could be stellar if Russell is
consistent and if Amos stays healthy.
Senior Aaron Pettrey
was supposed to be the next superstar Buckeye kicker, but Ryan
Pretorius took over and was phenomenal over the last two years. Pettry
got his chances to show off his cannon leg hitting 7-of-9 field goals
including a 54-yarder against Youngstown State. He also handled the
kickoff duties. While he's not consistent, he'll be more than fine.
Senior John Thoma will get the first shot at taking
over the punting duties from A.J. Trapasso, who averaged 41.2 yards per
kick and put 21 inside the 20. After coming to Ohio State as a walk-on,
the job is now his showing consistency and good blast throughout the
Lightning fast Lamaar Thomas had a
nice, solid year as the main kickoff returner averaging 21.5 yards per
try. He has the wheels to do far more. Ray Small is an
elite punt returner who averaged 15.2 yards per try and saved the day
against Ohio with a return for a score.
Watch Out For ...
Pettrey's bombs. He has 55-yard range and is
shockingly accurate from deep. His kickoffs might spray from time to
time, but on field goals he should be fantastic from long range.
Strength: Coverage teams. What happens when you
make the special teams a major point of emphasis? Your punt coverage
team allows 4.1 yards per try and you allow a mere 17.5 yards per
Weakness: Kickoff returns. Thomas was fine, but the team
was a pathetic 108th in America in kickoff returns averaging just 19.18
yards per try. A team with this much speed shouldn't be having this much
of a problem on kickoff returns.
Outlook: The return game will be fine. The kickoff
average stinks, and might not be great, but Thomas will always get the
ball out to the 20. Small is a special punt returner, while Pettrey will
be another good Ohio State kicker. The key might be Thoma. He's not
going to be special, but he needs to at least be serviceable.