When Laurinaitis announced his intention of returning for his senior season, the 2008 defense was basically locked down, save for the battle for Larry Grant's vacant spot at linebacker.
Facing a potential defection of four stud juniors, fans were granted a January miracle (one week late, alas) when Gholston was the only one of the four to announce his early exit.
The defense returns 9 starters from a unit that was rock solid all year with the exception of one outing against a "damn strong football team" executing a brilliant gameplan.
The Gholston loss is obviously huge. He is to talent what Marco Cooper was to "getting into a little bit of trouble". Still, you have to like Heyward coming back with a full year of experience and don't sleep on Wilson. You could make an argument that with his return from injury the Buckeyes are actually returning 10 starters.
After getting manhandled in New Orleans, the interior line should benefit from the extra year of conditioning and experience. A crew that was heavily rotated at times, "backups" Nader Abdallah and Dexter Larimore also return to add depth behind Worthington and Denlinger.
The backer corps, despite breaking in a new starter, will be one of the better units in the nation. Thankfully Laurinaitis reads this blog and based his decision to return solely on the fine unsolicited advice offered in these parts because despite tremendous numbers on the season, he should dominate games as a senior. Like a Butkus winner should. Complimenting him will be Freeman, a guy many fans think may be every bit as good as Laurinaitis.
Larry Grant, the lone senior on the 2007 squad, vacates his spot to the winner of the Rolle/Spitler/Moeller/Sweat derby. Spitler will be looking to put the punt whiff in the past, Sweat has great size and I know there are plenty of Rolle and Moeller fans, but this one is probably a long way off from being settled.
All four starters return in the secondary, and one thing is for certain: Coleman and Russell better bring their blitzing shoes. The surprise return of Jenkins teamed with a seasoned Washington at the corner spot should allow the team to show more man-to-man looks instead of the dreaded zone we've seen picked apart on the biggest stage the last two seasons.
And how much saltier do nicklebacks come than Chimdi Chekwa? He's currently on the Antoine Winfield ascent where he saw a ton of nickle time as a freshman and sophomore only to blow up his last two years when finally getting a corner spot of his own.
So this is all great, right? Fans are on a high. They've seen their teams soundly beaten by senior-laden SEC squads the past two seasons and have a new ray of hope. And it couldn't have come at a better time in regards to wound-licking and all that.
Still, the defensive coaches should use this opportunity to dial it up a bit and come with a more aggressive scheme. The zone got to go. Bring back that bump-and-run of Springs-Howard and Winfield-Plummer past.