Ohio State Football 2013 Review: Defense

Columbus, OH, USA; Indiana Hoosiers wide receiver Duwyce Wilson (81) is tackled by Ohio State Buckeyes defensive lineman Noah Spence (8) and defensive back Vonn Bell (11) in the first quarter of the game at Ohio Stadium.

Trevor Ruszkowski/Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Spor

Putting the wraps on Ohio State’s 2013 season with a look at the defense.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A defensive line that was almost entirely comprised of players in new roles mostly performed well — and freshman defensive end Joey Bosa is a star in the making. Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier had an All-American-type season, good enough that he declared for the NFL Draft the day after the season ended. Cornerback Bradley Roby’s final season was up-and-down, but Roby’s good stretches were both productive and necessary. The Buckeyes got stops when they needed to against Wisconsin and Northwestern and got a gift play call from Michigan on the game-deciding two-point conversion.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Safety Christian Bryant suffered a season-ending injury in late September, and the defense was never the same. Consistent help for Shazier in terms of linebacker production never came, and by the end of the season the secondary was giving up big plays in bunches. The Buckeyes high-scoring offense did keep the defense on the field a lot; it also bailed the defense out a lot. Roby wasn’t the only defensive back seen chasing receivers, and Ohio State’s penchant for missing tackles and giving up big plays showed up at the wrong time in consecutive losses to end the year. Meyer has vowed to get it fixed, and his track record says he will. But there’s a lot to fix.

PERSONNEL LOSSES: Shazier and Roby are gone to the NFL. Bryant and fellow safeties C.J. Barnett and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown graduate, too. All-Big Ten defensive end Noah Spence is suspended the first two games of next season, but the Buckeyes are bringing talent back on the unit and should be better. Losing coaches Everett Withers and Mike Vrabel will lead to a restructure on some level. It remains to be seen if Meyer chooses a total overhaul of the defensive plan. Shazier will be really missed early in 2014, but future playmakers will have their chances.

WHO’S ON HAND: Two talented young cornerbacks redshirted in Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, while Cam Burrows played on special teams. Linebacker Mike Mitchell redshirted, too. Jamal Marcus is an explosive athlete who started in place of Spence in the Orange Bowl; the Buckeyes, too, are expecting more than two sacks out of Adolphus Washington next year. With Michael Bennett and Bosa and Spence, among others, they’re getting closer to having that SEC-type defensive line Meyer wants. At every level of the defense there’s talent; it’s time for that talent to play better.

WHO’S COMING: Vonn Bell didn’t redshirt at safety. He played plenty on special teams and had an interception in the Orange Bowl. Returning corners Doran Grant and Armani Reeves can expect plenty of competition. Same at linebacker, where freshmen Raekwon McMillan and Dante Booker could play immediately. Trey Johnson should play more as a sophomore, too.

WHAT CHANGES: We still don’t know as two coaching changes have left the door open for Meyer to make big changes. Look for competition at every spot through the spring and for the defensive line, like it was in 2012, to be both a strength and the source of the strongest early leadership.

FINAL WORD: Ohio State isn’t getting where it wants to go until the defense makes major strides.