Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Ohio State Buckeyes, Part 3, Defense

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Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Ohio State Buckeyes, Part 3, Defense
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I began by taking a broad overview of the Ohio State program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Buckeyes will do this season.

Last week, I scanned at the 2012 Ohio State offense and how it projects.

This week, I'll look at the 2012 Ohio State defense.

 

Defensive Overview

2010 stats are included in these numbers even though they were officially vacated.

2011 scoring defense: 21.0 PPG (sixth in the conference)

Total defense: 323.5 YPG (fifth)

Rushing defense: 3.84 YPC (fifth)

Passing efficiency allowed: 126.75 (eighth)

Average scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: 2.4

Best scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: first (2007 and 2010)

Worst scoring defense conference ranking over last five years: sixth (2011)

Returning starters: DE/DT John Simon, DE Adam Bellamy, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Garrett Goebel, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard, CB Bradley Roby, FS C.J. Barnett, SS Christian Bryant, S Orhian Johnson

Open positions: LB

Defensive formation: 4-3

Defensive philosophy: aggressive

 

Defensive Breakdown

New Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is known for his offense; however, Meyer knows how to win, and as such, he is fully aware that defense wins championships, even in this hyper-offensive age.

That attitude is reflected on his resume.

In six years at Florida, his scoring defenses had a national ranking of (starting in 2010 and going back): 29, 4, 4, 46, 6 and 18. His Utah defenses both ranked second in the Mountain West.

In short, Meyer's team will not have an offense-dominant dynamic ala Chip Kelly's Oregon or Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State.

Meyer is aggressive and wants to put points on the board, but he will not throw his defense under the bus in order to do it.

His co-defensive coordinators (DC) are both former interim coaches. Everett Withers, who served as North Carolina's interim coach through the tumultuous 2011 season, is the first.

He has been around both college football and the NFL. His only experience in the Big Ten was as the Minnesota DC. That defense ranked 109th in the country, but in some fairness, he was working under this guy.

The other DC is a name OSU fans known well—Luke Fickell. Fickell was a nose guard for OSU, and outside of a two-year stint as the defensive line coach for Akron, he has spent his entire coaching career in Columbus.

In 2005, Fickell became the co-DC and remained as such until Jim Tressel was fired. At that point, he was handed the unenviable position of interim head coach, and, like a trooper, he took it and did the best he could.

Needless to say, Fickell is also an invaluable link from the old regime to Meyer.

 

Defensive Line

In 2011, Ohio State had its worst rush defense since 1999, as well as only 23 sacks which, exempting 2010, was the fewest its had in a decade.

That anomaly will right itself in 2012.

John Simon is the anchor. He can play three-technique defensive tackle, and weak or strong-side defensive end. Urban Meyer, who referred to Simon as "Tebowish," (via Cleveland.com) will have to decide where he will be most effective, or if he will rotate to confuse opposing offenses.

2012 will also see the return of Nathan Williams, who missed almost all of 2011 with a knee injury. He led the Bucks in sacks in 2010 and will likely do the same in 2012.

According to the post-spring depth chart (per SBNation's Cleveland blog) Williams is still competing for the starting strong-side end position with junior Adam Bellamy, who grabbed nine starts—at strong-side end and defensive tackle—last season.

Meanwhile, junior Johnathan Hankins will lock down the one-technique defensive tackle position. With a strong season, he could cement himself as the top defensive tackle in next year's NFL Draft, should he choose to come out early.

That will leave the nose tackle, which could be manned by Simon, Bellamy or returning starter, senior Garrett Goebel.

Also, sophomore J.T. Moore will push for playing time at end, while sophomore Joel Hale will see minutes at defensive tackle.

Either way, the 2012 Buckeye defensive line will be the best, the deepest and the most versatile in the conference, as well as one of the top 10 in the country.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: One

 

Linebackers

This group may have the most upside of any linebacking corps in a conference that fields a strong linebacker class in 2012.

Needless to say, playing behind one of the most dominant lines in the country will help.

The only full-time returning starter is senior Etienne Sabino, who will man the strong side.

Per CBS Sports, the Bucks lost returning starter Storm Klein to a disciplinary casualty. However, the writing may have been on the wall for Klein, as true sophomore Curtis Grant had passed him on the post-spring game depth chart as the No. 1 middle linebacker.

Grant came to the Buckeyes as Rivals' No. 1 linebacker in the country and No. 2 at any position.

Less-heralded true sophomore Ryan Shazier will start on the weak side. He came on late last year, grabbing the final three starts on the strong side. He was sixth on the team in tackles despite limited playing time.

The depth is negligible, as all of the backups are freshmen of both the true and redshirt variety.

Nonetheless, the linebacker group has the potential to be among the best in the conference if it can grow and stay healthy.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Five

 

Secondary

Fourteen Ohio State defensive backs were drafted between 2002 and 2011, three of them in the first round. Can Urban Meyer continue the tradition of Defensive Back U?

He'll have the raw materials to make it happen.

Junior safety C.J. Barnett has already established himself, and will be the focus of opposing offensive coordinators' game plans.

Though he spent most of last year at free safety, the most recent depth chart has him at strong. His backup is senior Orhian Johnson, who has accumulated a number of starts over his career. He doesn't have the talent of Barnett, but he could see minutes as a fifth defensive back.

Meanwhile, the other three returning starters have a great deal to prove, after giving up a passer efficiency rating of 126.75, which ranked eighth in the conference.

The starting free safety will be junior Christian Bryant, who started most of last year at strong safety.

Sophomore Bradley Roby will man one corner spot. Defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs describes Roby (per The Lantern) as, “big, and he’s fast, and he’s physical, and he’s intelligent and he’s got great change of direction. His transition is outstanding. And if Bradley’s not a first-round draft pick down the road, that would be a shame.”

The other cornerback spot is between sophomore Doran Grant and senior Travis Howard, the latter of whom grabbed most of the starts last year.

Improvement up front will help this group tremendously.

As with the Buckeye receivers, as mentioned in the second installment of this series, this position group will be one of the most improved in the conference, let alone the country.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Two

 

Defensive Outlook

While the offense will experience some hiccups as it transitions from Jim Tressel's power-based schemes to Urban Meyer's finesse-based schemes, the defense won't miss a step.

Until last season, Ohio State had fielded six straight top-10 scoring defenses. It was no accident that those top-10 defenses coincided with six straight Big Ten championships.

Last season, only four returning starters—one of whom was lost early in the season—combined with the off-the-field drama to give the Buckeye defense a decided step back.

Next season, the Silver Bullets will reassert themselves.

At best, OSU will have the top defense in the conference; at worst, it will be No. 3.

 

Coming next Wednesday, an overview and breakdown of Ohio State's specialists, schedule, recruiting class and a prediction as to where I think the Buckeyes will finish the 2012 season.

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