An Extremely Early Look at the '09 Defense

By Jason Priestas on January 12, 2009 at 7:00a
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Thaddeus MaximusThaddeus Maximus is back

As a quick update to the question on juniors that might be considering an early departure, Ken Gordon spoke with Hartline Sunday afternoon:

I just spoke with him, and he's still in the process of making up his mind. He said he has a few things he needs to bounce off his family and his fiancee before making a decision.

Not much to take away from that, but he is approaching a couple of events that may tip his decision:

In any case, the man redshirted in 2005, so he's been at OSU for four years. He is getting married in May and will graduate in June, so he may view this as a logical stepping-off point for the next phase of his life.

For what it's worth, Hartline is the only one of the juniors that Gordon thinks will opt for the draft.

Assuming he's correct, let's take a look at what the 2009 Buckeye defense might look like1.

Line: Wilson, Heyward, Worthington & Gibson

The only loss in this group is Nader Abdallah and on paper, it appears to be the saltiest unit Tressel's had since 2002. If these guys put in the work, they could even eclipse that fabled group.

Gibson should be damn near unblockable and once teams realize that, the doubles he'll get will only help the rest of the line. Lawrence Wilson (knock on wood) will play opposite Thaddeus with Nathan Williams and Rob Rose providing depth. With four very capable ends, the Buckeyes should have no issues getting pressure late into games all next season.

The interior of the line is in the same boat. Heyward, Worthington, Larimore and Denlinger, all guys that have been in town for what seems like 10 years, are all back for another go. Add the experience with some more time spent in the weight room and you can see why I'm probably more excited for this group than any other heading into 2009.

Linebackers: Homan, Sabino & Spitler

With Laurinaitis and Freeman graduating, the Buckeyes will need to replace two starting linebackers to play alongside Homan, who saw considerable time this season and proved effective as a run-eater.

Etienne Sabino and Austin Spitler look to be the most likely to step into those huge shoes, but luckily, having incredible size and instincts is often enough to make a great backer. Sabino should be a lot of fun to watch I can't wait to see what another year of the strength program will do to him. Spitler is still best remembered for his roughing call on a punt block last January, but he'll be a senior with good size. Look forward to a Schlegel-like season out of him with anything better as a bonus.

Other possibilities include Brian Rolle and Andrew Sweat. Don't rule out Hines or Moeller could grow into one of the outside spots as well.

Secondary: Chekwa, Washington*, Coleman* & Russell*

There are a lot of question marks with this group as the three noted above with asterisks are still making decisions about whether to move on to the NFL. Assuming they all stick around, that's a very veteran group that should be one of the better units in the nation next season.

However, I still think there's a chance Ohio State loses both Washington and Coleman and if that happens, the secondary will be a little green -- especially at corner/nickel. Coleman would certainly be missed, but Hines or maybe even Moeller are ready to step into the strong safety spot.

When you start thinking about who would replace Washington or who would step into the nickel against vertical teams (Hines/Moeller assuming that role against spreadish types), things get a little scary. Andre Amos and Travis Howard would probably battle for the open cornerback slot with the loser of said battle moving into the nickel. Other names to keep in mind are Donnie Evege, Orhian Johnson and Nate Oliver.

Outlook

The line is going to be fantastic -- best we've seen in years and the linebackers should be fine, but if the secondary gets ravaged by early departures, the defense may have to lean on a fierce pass rush for a while. The flip side is that the rush should put the Buckeyes into more man coverage situations and that's easier for younger defensive backs to pick up at this level.

It may be crazy optimism, but I actually think the defense will be better next season assuming no more than one of the three juniors in the secondary leave. Jenkins, Laurinaitis and Freeman are huge losses, but the line overcomes that and then some and the talent in the wings is pretty solid.

1 The forecasted lineup doesn't include any of the incoming freshman because, technically, none of them have even signed.

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