Ohio State Football: Defensive Stars Who Must Step Up to Lead Buckeyes to Title

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Ohio State Football: Defensive Stars Who Must Step Up to Lead Buckeyes to Title
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State Buckeyes are preparing for a season of extraordinary expectations. They're ranked No. 2 overall in the preseason coaches poll, Braxton Miller is a Heisman Tropy candidate and OSU is fresh off of an undefeated season.

The question is, which defensive stars must step up to complement Ohio State's star-studded offense?

Ohio State has experienced quite the overhaul, as some of their brightest defensive stars entered the 2013 NFL Draft. While they may have been good enough to win a title last season, finishing the year as the only undefeated FBS team, the Buckeyes were also in the midst of a postseason ban.

Fortunately for Ohio State fans, the following players can help the program return to glory under Urban Meyer.

 

Bradley Roby

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Position: Cornerback

Class: RS Junior

2012 Season Statistics

63 tackles, 41 solo, 19 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 2 defensive touchdowns

 

One of the most devastating losses for Ohio State is that of cornerback Travis Howard. Now a member of the Houston Texans in the NFL, Howard led the Buckeyes with four interceptions in 2012, also stepping up with nine passes defended.

It's on Bradley Roby to step in as Howard's replacement.

Roby, a redshirt junior, wasn't too bad himself in 2012. He came up with two interceptions, one fumble recovery and two defensive touchdowns. Roby also had a team-best 19 passes defended.

It's all a matter of staying out of trouble.

If Roby can remain on the field, he's one of the best defensive backs in all of college football. He has game-changing speed and ranked second amongst Ohio State players with 41 solo tackles in 2012.

His teammates will need to hold their own, as well, but it's Roby who must fill gigantic shoes with Howard's departure. Something about the 2012 season tells us he'll be able to.

 

Ryan Shazier

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Linebacker

Class: Junior

2012 Season Statistics

115 tackles, 70 solo, 17.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 1 interception, 3 forced fumbles, 1 defensive touchdown

 

What can't Ryan Shazier do?

Revered as one of the best linebackers in the nation, Shazier ripped off 115 tackles, 5.0 sacks, one interception, three forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown in 2012. Ohio State's young defensive lineman will be tasked with replacing John Simon, but Shazier will feel the burden as well.

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He was the only Ohio State player other than Simon to tally at least 5.0 sacks in 2012.

In a Big Ten conference in which quarterback play is becoming stronger by the season, Shazier's leadership will be as important as ever. His ability to make the proper reads against the option will be critical to Ohio State keeping opponents out of the end zone.

With a young defensive line, it's safe to say that his job will be more difficult than in the year prior.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Shazier doesn't seem to be a flash in the pan, but instead a potential NFL starter. He's a big-time playmaker who tackles well in the open field and does an excellent job of disrupting the run.

Speed is at a premium in the defensive backfield, but with question marks up front, it's on Shazier to mentor Ohio State's young players and help lead them to the title.

 

Noah Spence

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Position: Defensive End

Class: Sophomore

2012 Season Statistics

12 tackles, 7 solo, 1.0 sack

 

If you've been anywhere near Ohio State's practice field, you've likely heard coaches and reporters raving over Noah Spence. He was the nation's No. 5 overall player in 2012, per 247 Sports, and is expected to become a star in Columbus.

It's time he lives up to the hype.

The Buckeyes have a major void to fill after the departure of Simon, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Simon, now a member of the Baltimore Ravens, was the team's defensive anchor, leading the Buckeyes with 9.0 sacks.

No one else on the roster had more than 5.0.

Spence will now step in and look to help Ohio State's young defensive line by getting after the quarterback on a consistent basis. If he's successful, the Buckeyes will be able to control the pace of games and thus match their explosive offense with a dominant defensive front.

If Spence is unable to live up to his top billing, however, Ohio State's top tier defensive speed will be wasted.

 

Adolphus Washington

(Marvin Fong / The Plain Dealer)

Position: Defensive End

Class: Sophomore

2012 Season Statistics

9 tackles, 5 solo, 3.0 sacks

 

Just as Spence is, Adolphus Washington will be tasked with replacing Simon. Fortunately, there's good reason to believe that he'll be successful in his attempts.

Washington only managed nine total tackles during his limited freshman season, but still picked up 3.0 sacks. Plain and simple, this young man can get after the quarterback.

If he and Spence can become the star tandem they're expected to be, we may be looking at something closer to an elite defense than a strong one.

There will be other players tasked with providing major contributions, especially after first-team All-American and starting defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins entered the NFL Draft. With both Hankins and Simon gone, it thus becomes nonsensical to ask Washington to do it all.

With that being said, he and Spence were brought here to anchor a dominant front seven. With Ohio State possessing realistic title dreams, that makes the time now for both players to begin realizing their potential.

It's time for the young guns to prove why they were so highly touted.

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