Ohio State defense looking good despite key losses

Ohio State’s offense hasn’t had a great spring.

How much of that is the doing of the defense?

One thing’s for certain: The Buckeyes on the other side of the

ball believe the defense is for real.

”Definitely there’s stuff we could get better at,” tight end

Jake Stoneburner said of the offense, which has had a so-so spring

because of injuries and a shortage of linemen. ”But also, we’re

going against one of the best defenses around. They know what

they’re doing over there, they’re known for having great defense.

So if we have an awful day, it’s our fault but you also have to

look at who we’re going against.”

The thing is, this isn’t supposed to be a vintage year for the

defense.

The unit was devastated by graduation, losing starting linemen

Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore, linebackers Ross Homan and

Brian Rolle, and four mainstays in the secondary in corners Chimdi

Chekwa and Devon Torrence, safety Aaron Gant and Jermale Hines, who

plays the linebacker/safety hybrid position of ”star.”

But instead of limping along, the unit has been terrific most of

the spring.

Defensive end John Simon said it’s all in the attitude.

”A lot of people go through spring ball and figure they won’t

work hard – ‘We’re just here to practice’ or whatever,” he said.

”But this team, we really get excited every day.”

Holdover Nathan Williams teams with Simon at the ends, with

Garrett Goebel, Darryl Baldwin and freshman Joel Hale fighting for

the one tackle spot. At nose tackle, a slimmed-down Johnathan

Hankins – if you can be slimmed down at 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds –

has been a terror. Melvin Fellows and Solomon Thomas are also

battling for playing time up front, although Thomas must sit out

the first five games as part of NCAA sanctions for accepting

improper benefits.

Williams knows what needs to be done.

”We’re depending on the younger guys to fill in. We’ve lost

seven starters so they have to step up and play for us,” he said.

”It’s definitely a huge challenge to replace guys on the defense.

I know the coaching staff and myself look forward to the challenge

it’s going to be replacing those guys.”

Andrew Sweat, the lone returning starter at linebacker, will

likely be joined by Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein, with Dorian

Bell and Jordan Whiting backing them up.

A year ago, Sweat was just an afterthought. Now he’s one of the

team’s linchpins.

”It’s kind of surreal. It seems like I just got here,” the

senior said. ”You’re familiar with the defensive concept so it’s

kind of neat mentoring the younger guys and seeing them

progress.”

Similarly, the one returnee in the backfield is Orhian Johnson,

who had a fine year at free safety. Bradley Roby and Dominic Clarke

are battling for one cornerback spot opposite Travis Howard and

Dionte Allen. Christian Bryant, who saw some action a year ago as a

freshman at the star position, will duel with Tyler Moeller, who

was a starter before a torn chest muscle ended his season. Nate

Oliver and Jamie Wood, along with a freshman or two, will probably

add some insurance in the secondary.

The competition at so many positions has turned up the heat on

what has been a cool spring.

”(We’re) extremely fired up. We were having a good time,”

Simon said. ”That’s the way defense should be – just let loose and

have fun.”