Spring football is upon us, and all the Buckeye football news platforms are posting their previews. If your like me at all, you have read all the posts on the "biggest questions" the team has going into spring. Most have focused on Pryor's knee, the depth at running back, the No. 3 wide receiver, and the battle for both offensive tackle spots. None of these are bad questions, and will play an important part of the spring, but the focus needs to get placed on the defense.
While the offensive side of the ball will provide some exciting battles at positions of depth, the Buckeyes have very few worries on that side of the ball (as long as Pryor heals up). The defense on the other hand, has some gapping holes that must be filled. Not only that, but the "D" lost its leadership in Coleman, Spitler and Worthington, which is vital to replace.
So, as spring practice gets underway, pay attention to the defense. How far this team goes truly lies in some of the questions on that side of the ball. Let's take a look...
Can the defensive line replicate the depth from a season ago?
Thaddeus Gibson, Doug Worthington, Lawrence Wilson, Robert Rose, and Todd Denlinger have all departed leaving a much less experienced unit on the defensive line. There is no doubt about it, last year's line was the core of the defense, and they took over in many games. That will be tough to duplicate in 2010, and I'm not sure it will happen.
The Buckeyes do return the overall best defensive lineman from last year in Cameron Heyward, along with familiar faces Nathan Williams, Dexter Larimore, and John Simon. Yet, they will have to rely on many unproven and inexperienced players to add the depth they need to create a rotation. Guys like Solomon Thomas and Keith Wells will try to finally prove their worth, while youngsters Garrett Goebel, Adam Bellamy, Melvin Fellows, and all the 2010 newcomers will try to make a name for themselves. The spring will go a long way to prove how deep the defensive line will really be.
Losing two guys with this much experience is an issue, especially because of a lack of depth behind them. On a positive note, Jermale Hines is back, and we all know he outplayed Anderson Russell last season. Outside of him, it's wide open for who will step up at the other safety spot. Every expert has an opinion on who it will be, but the spring will truly show us who will win the battle.
Orhian Johnson is the most popular name at this point to take over the job, but there are a ton of other candidates. Under the radar veteran players like Nate Oliver and Zach Domicone cannot be forgotten, even though both will likely be a long shot. Johnson's best competition will come from Jamie Wood and C.J. Barnett, though both are very unproven. The wild card will be Tyler Moeller, who will not be cleared for contact until the fall. That's a lot of names to watch, and similar to corner last spring, all of these guys will get the reps to prove themselves.
Who takes over at the SAM Linebacker?
Much like running back, the Buckeyes are incredibly deep at linebacker. While Austin Spitler's leadership will definitely be missed, there are plenty of guys that can step up in his place athletically. The question is, who will it be? While fans will be pulling for superstar recruit, Etienne Sabino, it appears as if Andrew Sweat may be the man to beat for the job. A lot of that will depend on how well he returns from his knee injury. Regardless, this should be an interesting battle to watch this spring and early fall.
How will the chemistry be for the defense in 2010?
Just as Ken Gordon pointed out earlier in the week, chemistry will be huge for this team in 2010. Thanks to the leadership on the team (and lack of star power) in 2009, everone gelled very well. Gordon points out:
"I thought one of the most fascinating story lines of last season was how the Buckeyes came together as the year went on, and how so much of their success (particularly on defense) came despite not having very many star players."
Duplicating that in 2010 will be vital, especially on defense. The heart of the team last season was in the leadership of the defense. As I pointed out earlier, those guys are now gone. New leaders will have to step up, and hopefully another "team" dynamic can be created this season.