Buckeyes counting on a lot from Bryant, Barnett

Safeties are the players farthest removed from the action.

Yet they’ll be in the middle of Ohio State’s hopes this
fall.

Starters Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett account for 50
percent of the seniors on the defensive side for the Buckeyes.
They’ve been through a lot, with three coaches in their college
careers, weathering a dreary 6-7 record two years ago and playing
important roles in the 12-0 bounce-back season of 2012.

With most of the defensive front seven gone, they’re being asked
to not only be major contributors on the field but also to be
instructors for all of the younger guys stepping into starting
roles for the first time.

”It’s on our shoulders,” Barnett said. ”Me and Christian,
being seniors … it’s a duty for us. We’ve got to stand up to the
challenge. Everybody is going to be looking to us.”

For a young defense, the two wizened veterans in the secondary
are key.

”I like the leadership in the back end of our defense, that’s
Christian Bryant, that’s C.J. Barnett,” coach Urban Meyer said.
”I’m real pleased with that.”

A quick look at last year’s stats underscores their
importance.

They are among the top four returning tacklers from a year ago.
Bryant was second (to returning linebacker Ryan Shazier) with 70
tackles, including one interception, a fumble recovery and 12
passes broken up.

Barnett was fourth in stops with 56, including 2 1/2 for losses,
and also had two interceptions and six breakups. Corey
”Pittsburgh” Brown also returns as a backup for the Killer Bs at
safety.

”I think it’s important that those guys who have played a lot
of snaps here – Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett, Corey Brown – those
guys have been around this program a long time and have a lot
invested in it,” said co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach
Everett Withers. ”It’s really important that they show leadership,
not just in the defense room but throughout our football team. That
they help us with our young guys.

”The Ohio State way – they know it.”

Cornerback Bradley Roby, who was third in tackles with 63, is
currently working out with the second team as part of his
punishment for a summer skirmish with a Bloomington, Ind., bar
bouncer. Roby may face additional sanctions, pending the outcome of
his legal case.

Roby’s situation adds to the problems for the defense, which may
have the top four tacklers from last season but is missing the next
eight on the list.

Asked if the safeties must set the tone for the unit, Bryant
doesn’t mince words.

”I would say so right now, just because of the experience and
the leadership that we have coming back in the secondary,” he
said. ”All of the older guys in the secondary are trying to do a
good job of leading the young guys in the right direction, showing
them the way. Because, like (running backs) coach (Stan) Drayton
always says, `They have no idea what they’re getting themselves
into right now.”’

How well Bryant and Barnett do may well determine just how good
Ohio State is.

A year ago, Ohio State was seen as a relatively talented team,
but one that was coming off a losing season. There were a lot of
question marks with a new regime coming in.

But a strong core of seniors helped turn the tide, transforming
a team with a lot of concerns to one with no losses.

”It’s important that their leadership comes out,” Withers said
of Bryant and Barnett. ”We had great leadership last year and you
saw where it got us.”

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:
http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP