2009 Ohio State Preview - Defense
Ohio State SS Kurt Coleman
Ohio State SS Kurt Coleman
Posted Jul 9, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Ohio State Buckeye Defense

Ohio State Buckeyes

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Ohio State Preview | 2009 Ohio State Offense
- 2009 Ohio State Defense | 2009 Ohio State Depth Chart
- 2008 OSU Preview | 2007 OSU Preview | 2006 OSU Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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 Andre Amos
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 Backs
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker Experience, Sure-Thing No. 2 Corner

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: OSU is 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 sacks.

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 campaign.

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.

Senior 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.
Outlook: 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.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: 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.

Getting the 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 playing time.

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.

6-1, 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 configuration.
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.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: 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 testing him.  

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.

The 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 spot.

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 in practices.

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.

Strength: Experience. There 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.
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
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: 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 offseason.

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 kickoff return.
: 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.
Rating: 7.5


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2009 CFN Ohio State Preview
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2009 Ohio State Preview - Offense
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