2010 Ohio State Preview – Defense
Ohio State LB Ross Homan
Ohio State LB Ross Homan
Posted Jun 17, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Ohio State Buckeye Defense

Ohio State Buckeyes

Preview 2010 - Defense

- 2010 Ohio State Preview | 2010 Ohio State Offense
- 2010 Ohio State Defense | 2010 Ohio State Depth Chart
- Ohio State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006

What You Need To Know: Considering seven starters return from the nation's fifth-ranked defense (and the best in the Big Ten), there are an awful lot of question marks. The pass rush was mediocre, and is likely to be again unless Nathan Williams and others emerge on the end to help out Cameron Heyward, the linebackers are small, and the secondary, while talented and athletic, lacks star power. Boo-hoo. The Buckeye defense might not have a slew of marquee names, it didn't last year, either, and it managed to do just fine. Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, while undersized, should be the Big Ten's best linebacking pair, Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence are veteran corners, and Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore are NFL linemen who just so happen to be playing for the Buckeyes. There's a slew of young talent waiting in the wings from great recruiting classes, there's speed and athleticism across the board, and the coaching, as always, will be rock solid.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Ross Homan, 108
Sacks: Cameron Heyward, 6.5
Interceptions: Ross Homan, 5

Star of the defense: Senior LB Ross Homan
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore SS Orhian Johnson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT John Simon
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Cameron Heyward
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Homan, 2) LB Brian Rolle, 3) Heyward
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Athletes
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Developed Defensive Back Depth 

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Senior Cameron Heyward , the son of the late NFL running back, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, has stepped up his play in a big way over the last two seasons coming up with 45 tackles with 6.5 sacks and ten tackles for loss last season. While he's not an elite pass rusher, he's a dream of a 3-4 end at the next level with 6-5, 288-pound size and good enough quickness to get into the backfield when he's in a groove. A second-team All-Big Ten performer, when properly fired up (like he was against Wisconsin and Penn State last season), he's a special player. With his skills and with the rest of the great line next to him, he's due to become a double-digit sack performer.

Getting the start on the other side of Heyward, and in place of Thaddeus Gibson, is junior Nathan Williams , a 6-3, 260-pound pass rusher who did a nice job in the rotation making 26 tackles with 3.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. Extremely promising with a world of upside, he's quick off the ball and he packs a big punch when he comes up with a hit. It's almost like he's a physical linebacker playing on the end, and this year he could blow up as a consistent playmaker into the backfield.

Sophomore John Simon will be a mainstay on the defensive interior for the next three years. At 6-2 and 270 pounds, he's not a massive body on the inside, but he's quick and powerful with the strength to hold his own against bigger blockers. He got on the field as a true freshman and looked like he belonged making 15 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four tackles for loss, and with a passion for the weight room and a non-stop motor, he should be an all-star in the near future.

It's not that Dexter Larimore has been bad, on the contrary, he has been a solid cog in the interior, but he hasn't been the special star that head coach Jim Tressel crowed he'd by a few years ago. At 6-2 and 310 pounds he's the team's biggest option at tackle, and with the quickness of a much smaller player he has the talent to get into the backfield. Now he has to do it on a more regular basis with just nine career tackles for loss and four sacks. That's all nitpicking, though. He's a rock against the run and should be a true anchor for everyone else to work around. The former Indiana state champion wrestler has been good, just not great.

Projected Top Reserves: Working in a rotation with Nathan Williams on the outside will be Solomon Thomas , a 6-5, 226-pound junior who'll be the most team's most experienced backup option on the defensive front. Extremely quick, he has worked to add muscle and bulk to his tall, thin frame, but he has yet to do much on the field making six tackles last year.

It'll be a major disappointment if redshirt freshman Melvin Fellows isn't tremendous sooner than later. While he's a 6-5, 249-pound pass rusher, he's also a run defender who won't be afraid to get physical against the stronger run blockers. Not a speed rusher, he's more about forcing his way into the backfield as a bull rusher, but he has enough athleticism to get around the lumbering offensive tackles.

Adding bulk to the interior working behind the 270-pound John Simon is the 6-4, 295-pound Adam Bellamy , a promising redshirt freshman who's expected to be a terrific run defender who grows into the rotation. The redshirt freshman isn't the typical Ohio State five-star monster prospect for the line, but he's always going to give a big effort and moves well enough to get into the backfield from time to time on want-to.

6-3, 281-pound sophomore Garrett Goebel was an excellent recruit out of Illinois with the ability to become a strong backup and the understudy behind Dexter Larimore at tackle. Very strong and quick off the ball, he has the potential to become a dangerous interior pass rusher with a little more time and a lot more seasoning. He saw time in every game last year but only made two tackles with a tackle for loss in garbage action.

Watch Out For … Simon. Larimore is the experienced veteran who knows what he's doing to hold up on the inside, but it's Simon who's showing off the potential to be the breakout star up front. After a great offseason, the always-working sophomore should be a dangerous all-around playmaker on the inside.
Strength: Run defense. It might not always be flashy and Buckeye fans might always want more out of the tackles (at least in those games when they don't appear to be inspired), but the front four will be a brick wall against the run yet again. Good luck getting more than 150 yards on the ground against this group.
Weakness: Pass rush. It's Ohio State … where's the killer on the outside? If it's not going to be Williams, the pressure on the quarterback will have to come from several different spots. The Buckeyes finished an astonishing sixth in the Big Ten in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss.
Outlook: The rotation should be excellent, and as always, the talent and production will be there. This might not be one of the nation's elite lines, but it'll rise up when needed. The second team is young and inexperienced, but it's talented enough to be the starting foursome for a few other Big Ten teams. Larimore and Heyward are the established veterans, Simon and Williams are the rising stars, and the backups are just strong enough to keep the production going when they get in.
Unit Rating: 8


Projected Starters: Senior Ross Homan went from being a nice spot starter to the team's leading tackler and yet another star Ohio State linebacker. Most college fans couldn't pick him out of a lineup, and he doesn't necessarily look the part at just 6-0 and 227 pounds, but he was all over the place on the weakside making 108 tackles with five interceptions and two sacks. The lack of size is an issue; staying on the field was a problem early in his career missing most of 2007 with a toe problem and fighting through a hamstring early last year. The second-team All-Big Ten performer isn't going to wow the NFL scouts like other Buckeye linebackers, but he'll make a ton of big plays as the key veteran on the defensive front seven.

After showing tremendous promise last offseason, senior Brian Rolle came up with a fantastic 2009 finishing second on the team with 95 tackles with an interception and seven tackles for loss, and now he's poised and ready to become a star. At 5-11 and 218 pounds he's small for the middle, but he's extremely tough and can fly all over the field. A blow-‘em-up hitter, he's aggressive and should be an intimidating force for receivers coming across the middle.

The spotlight will be on junior Etienne Sabino , a 6-3, 240-pound junior who has looked unstoppable at times in offseason practices, and ordinary in others. He has the size for the strongside and he has a little bit of experience making six tackles and a play in the backfield, but now the one-time superstar recruit has to show that he can be more than just a premier special teamer. Athleticism and size was never a problem, but now he's functionally stronger and he should be a playmaker against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the nation's top linebacker recruits last year, Dorian Bell was able to redshirt and now he's ready to step in and become a factor on the weakside. A huge hitter, the 6-1, 225-pounder is a dangerous prospect with unlimited range and next-level quickness. All the basics and all the talent are in place to become special after a little bit of time and some game reps. He's ready for the limelight.

Junior Andrew Sweat wasn't able to do much this offseason with a knee injury, but he's a good, sound prospect who has been good on special teams and has been able to step in when needed making 15 tackles and an interception in just seven games before having knee problems. At 6-2 and 239 pounds he's a good-sized option on the strongside, but he's a backup.

6-2, 230-pound Storm Klein saw some work as a true freshman making ten tackles as and could become a do-it-all defender on the inside. Adding more size than Brian Rolle in the middle, he's strong, tough, and more interesting than just his name running for more than 6,000 yards in high school with 99 scores, while also serving as a top punter averaging close to 41 yards per shot. He was also a star wrestler. The ability is there to quickly become a fan favorite.

Watch Out For … Sabino. There were some spring practices when he looked like one of the guys, but overall he showed off the talent and the potential to be a dominator from the strongside. He won't have to do everything with a tremendous pair of veterans next to him, so he can take care of his own business.
Strength: Homan and Rolle. There might not be an A.J. Hawk or a James Laurinaitis in the group, but the two seniors are on the verge of being phenomenal. These two combined for over 200 tackles last year and they should do the same again. They'll make up for any mistakes made by the front four.
Weakness: Size. Rolle and Homan were able to hold up, for the most part, but it's asking a lot for them to get through the season clean. Homan suffered a concussion in the middle of the year but was able to come back, and he has been banged up throughout his career. Rolle is a 218-pounder who has to survive in the middle. He's tough, but it would be nice to have a 240-pound monster eating everything up inside.
Outlook: As long as Homan and Rolle hold up, the linebackers will be a strength once again. If Sabino becomes the player many believe he can be, and if Bell can start to live up to his prep hype, then the linebacking corps goes from great to phenomenal.
Unit Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: Senior Chimdi Chekwa might not be a No. 1 shut-down defender, but he's a rock solid all-around corner. The 6-0, 190-pounder is terrific in the open field and is a sure tackler making 43 stops with a interception and a team-leading seven broken up passes on the way to honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. He has no problems being on an island and has the Big Ten track star wheels and the toughness to be able to hang around with any receiver in the Big Ten. There's nothing flashy about him; he gets the job done.

Senior Devon Torrence went from being a strong backup option to a starter on the other side of Chimdi Chekwa making 35 tackles with two interceptions and two broken up passes. While he has 6-1, 200-pound size and plenty of experience, he struggled this offseason staying with the Buckeye receivers. A star centerfield prospect who was drafted by the Houston Astros, he's a great all-around athlete with good toughness and nice catch-up speed. Now he just has to be a bit more consistent.

Senior Jermale Hines was a top outside linebacker prospect who quickly became a safety. He found a role as a backup defensive back making 31 tackles in 2008, and then he came up with a good year as a spot-starter making 57 tackles with two interceptions with a broken up pass. The team's third leading returning tackler is also one of the Big Ten's fastest free safeties. While he hasn't been on the NFL radar quite yet, with his wheels and 6-1, 216-pound size, he could make a big impact now that he has the full-time job all to himself.

Taking over for Kurt Coleman at strong safety will be 6-2, 203-pound sophomore Orhian Johnson . More like a free safety than a big-hitting strong safety, Johnson is very smart and very promising, but he has to stay healthy. He came up with ten tackles as a redshirt freshman, but he was never quite right after being banged up early on. Now he needs to become a leader and a top all-around playmaker to replace Coleman's 68 tackles and five interceptions.

Projected Top Reserves: As a big-time hitter, corner Donnie Evege can be used in a variety of ways. Hurt early on last year, the 5-11, 180-pound junior still managed to be a factor on special teams and occasionally in the defensive backfield making 14 tackles. Very smart and very tough, he could grow into a role as a nickel or dime defender and as a backup working behind Devon Torrence, and with his sub-4.4 speed he could be used more against the faster receivers.

Sophomore Travis Howard made two tackles after working mostly on special teams, but he's an elite athlete who'll get every shot at time as a nickel and dime defender. The 6-1, 190-pound corner can jump out of the stadium and is great on the move, but he was out this offseason getting healthy and needs to see more playing time and more reps before he can be the No. 1 corner he's expected to be by next year.

Safety Zach Domicone made four tackles and recovered a fumble as a top special teamer, and now the sophomore will get a shot to work at free safety. The 6-3, 211-pound sophomore is a heady player with tremendous speed and range, and he'll get worked into the mix slowly. The athleticism is there, and now he needs the time on the field to know what he's doing.

6-0, 210-pound senior Tyler Moeller is back after a nightmare 2009 missing the entire season after being attacked and suffering a major head injury. While it's still hit or miss on how much he'll be able to play, if at all, after being told he'd never be able to play football again, everything else is in place for him to come back on the field. He has been cleared to go, and if he's able, he'll be a backup strong safety and key special teamer. He made 18 tackles as a reserve linebacker in 2008.

Watch Out For … movement. The starting foursome isn't a rock-solid lock to stay in its offseason form, even at corner. The chances will be there for several young players to show what they can do, and while the secondary was strong last year, the coaching staff won't be afraid to make some big changes and move some different players into the fold.
Strength: The schedule. Miami's Jacory Harris is a nice quarterback, Indiana will wing it around a bit, Wisconsin is efficient through the air, and Purdue will put up yards, but the decent secondary should be able to put up fantastic numbers partly because no one on the schedule has a passing game to keep the coaches up at night.
Weakness: A No. 1 star. Kurt Coleman emerged as the leader of the secondary and the big-time playmaker, and he'll be missed. It's Ohio State, so there won't be any problems finding talented, athletic defensive backs to emerge as factors, but it would be nice if there was one guy who could be the anchor going into the season. Chekwa might be close.
Outlook: The secondary will be great again mostly because the rest of the defense will be outstanding and the schedule is missing a slew of top-shelf passers, but the corners are beatable deep (at least once in a while) and the safeties have to step up and shine. The spotlight will be on Johnson and Hines to be steady. On the plus side, everyone can run and everyone can play; there's no shortage of top prospects.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Devin Barclay wanted to be a soccer star, and he was on track to be special as the USA Today player of the year and a four-year MLS starter before getting injured and walking on at OSU. He took over when Aaron Pettrey got hurt and connected on 7-of-10 field goals including the overtime game-winner from 39 yard out to beat Iowa. While the 27-year-old has a great leg, he hasn't shown it off much yet; his range is just inside the 50.

Sophomore Ben Buchanan will take over for Jon Thoma, a great positional kicker who forced 41 fair catches and put 23 inside the 20. Buchanan kicked four times against Toledo and averaged 42.8 yards per kick, and he should be yet another great OSU directional punter for the next three years with a big leg and good accuracy. He can also be used on field goals.

Ohio State doesn't lack for speedy athletes, but it'll still be a little bit of work to find the right mix of returners. WR DeVier Posey is the leading returning punt returner, averaging 12 yards per try on his two returns, while RBs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron will get the first look on kickoff returns. Speed isn't going to be an issue.

Watch Out For … Drew Basil . Barclay might have been a hero at times last year and he might have the inside line on the placekicking job, but Basil has a cannon for a leg and also has enough pop to push for the starting punting job. A true freshman isn't going to take over all the kicking duties, but Basil should get his shot to be a factor.
Strength: Speed for the return game. The punt returns weren't anything special last year, but once in a while Ray Small would come up with something big (and on kickoff returns, too). Posey, Saine, and Herron all have the speed and the talent to be weapons whenever the ball is in their hands.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage and sure-thing deep field goals. The kickoff coverage team was mediocre allowing 21.2 yards per try, but the bigger problem going into the year will be field goals from beyond 40 yards. Aaron Pettrey was fantastic from deep, and it remains to be seen if Barclay, Buchanan, or Basil can provide the same sort of deep pop.
Outlook: The special teams are always going to be good under Jim Tressel, but there are question marks. Can the kicking game be as good without Pettrey? Is Buchanan going to be the consistent punter that John Thoma was? Can there be more pop to the return game? The Buckeyes will almost always win the special teams battles, but it's not going to be by a lot.
Unit Rating: 7.5

- 2010 Ohio State Preview | 2010 Ohio State Offense
- 2010 Ohio State Defense | 2010 Ohio State Depth Chart
- Ohio State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006