Young 2013 OSU Defense Looking for Leaders, Legends

By Michael Citro on March 1, 2013 at 1:00p
Is Christian Bryant a leader? A legend?

As you know, the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes have a lot of defensive starters to replace. With only four returning starters — including none on the defensive line — the defense this fall will have more question marks than Frank Gorshin’s Riddler suit.

Among those queries will be the usual ruminations on which young players will step up, which freshmen are likely to see playing time, who among last year’s backups can make the leap, and whether or not the D can continue the evolution it began over the last quarter of 2012.

But perhaps the biggest question of all is: where will the defensive leadership come from in 2013? The Buckeyes will be as green as the Ohio Stadium turf on the defensive side of the ball.

As spring ball inches ever closer, now seems a good time to speculate about it (despite the fact we won’t find out until September, if then).

Leadership is a squishy term to pin down. It goes beyond just being a good football player or making big plays on the field. It starts away from the field. It goes far beyond doing things the right way. It also entails getting teammates to do the right things, too. In Ohio Stadium. On the practice field. In the film room. In the weight room. In the community.

Ohio State will no longer have John Simon, one of the better team leaders in the last decade. Simon set the tone with his experience, his play on the field, and his natural ability to lead. Sadly, his eligibility is now as exhausted as the offensive tackles who tried to keep him off their quarterback.

The object of Urban Meyer’s first man crush in Columbus, Simon’s work ethic and ability to get others to follow caused his coach to gush like a smitten school girl at times. He even discussed the possibility of naming a kid after the bear-like defensive lineman.

(But who are we to judge? We all gushed over John Simon, and rightfully so.)

In addition to Simon, the Buckeye defense lost the rest of a veteran defensive line that included seniors Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams, and junior Johnathan Hankins. All four players were leaders who provided stability to the youngsters who filled in around them in situational substitutions.

On the second level, the Buckeyes lost senior linebackers Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren. While Sabino made some plays throughout the season, it was Boren’s leadership and aggressive, downhill play that turned the defense around. His stabilizing presence turned a leaky defense into one of the better units in the country in November.

In the secondary, Ohio State lost senior Travis Howard at one corner position and backup safety and starting “star,” Orhian Johnson. Both players earned their keep and provided leadership by how they carried themselves on the field.

Who will lead the unit in 2013? It starts with a look at the few returning defenders. The defense returns senior safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett, junior cornerback Bradley Roby, and junior linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Ryan Damn Shazier. Definitely a legend, but a leader?Ryan Shazier can bring the lumber. Can he bring leadership?

Meyer recently called Bryant the “emotional leader” of the defense, but acknowledged that he had no idea from where the leadership on his defense would come. Bryant and Barnett are both good candidates as team leaders. The Buckeyes will rely heavily on their safeties against both the run and the pass. Bryant will provide big plays, and inspirational ones. Barnett is a smart veteran who understands Ohio State’s defensive philosophy.

Roby will be the unit’s best returning starter. His playmaking will provide a beacon for his young teammates to follow. If he’s a leader, this is the time to show it. It’s likely he will grade out very highly and leave Columbus to play on Sundays after this year.

The secondary isn’t a bad place to look for leaders. Ohio State has had plenty over the years: Malcolm Jenkins, Antoine Winfield, Shawn Springs, William White, Jack Tatum, Mike Doss, Neal Colzie, and Chris Gamble, to name a few. With all the young players lining up in front of them, the trio of Bryant, Barnett and Roby will need to step up and provide some form of leadership.

Shazier, like Bryant, will provide inspiration with his devastating hits and exciting plays. He’s a vocal player. But can he lead? In his third season as a regular, and the only returning starter at linebacker, his teammates will look for him to do so. If he can, Ohio State’s defense will benefit greatly by having one of its more dominant players showing the way.

Who else might show some leadership qualities?

Michael Bennett is a possibility. Bennett, a junior, will be a rare veteran on the defensive line. Quick and powerful, Bennett will make plays. That attribute alone will provide some sort of guide for his young linemates.

Among the younger returning players, Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington will play a lot more in 2013. One or more may emerge as a leader. It’s a bit much to expect a sophomore to be a team leader, but every once in a while it happens. Guys like Chris Spielman and James Laurinaitis come to mind.

At least one young linebacker will need to step up and make plays, if not provide some form of leadership. And, unless the team stays in the nickel, this defense might need two guys to do so. Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant could be those guys.

In the secondary, we’ll likely see a lot more of Doran Grant. It’s too early to say if he’s the leader type.

Freshmen don’t often become leaders. But is it possible that some of the newest Buckeyes will be able to provide some of that valuable attribute? It might be.

Guys like Joey Bosa, Mike Mitchell, and Eli Apple are guys who might be able to step into a leadership role early.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter where the leadership comes from, so long as it comes from someone (or someones). The Buckeyes should have plenty of offense to win most of its games in 2013. Ohio State can be a good team without defensive leaders. But it can’t be a great one unless at least one guy shows the others the way.


Comments Show All Comments

sharks's picture

In my opinion, you can't be a leader until you've walked the walk. 
That puts the pressure on Roby and Shazier to step up.  It is THEIR defense this year.

A man got to have a code...

Ashtabula's picture

Agree.  I'd add Bryant to the mix as well.

sir rickithda3rd's picture

i just hope bryant wraps up a little better this yr

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

jaxbuckeye's picture

Agree with you both.  If those guys don't take a leadership role, we could be in for some trouble on the defense.  The freshmen coming in might be talented but they're still boys compared to juniors and seniors.

73buckeye's picture

Real leaders get respect and commitment from the people they lead by earning it. It can't be bestowed by some higher power and must be earned by being out front. Simon and Boren were leaders because of the way they worked and sacrificed for the good of the team, and the way they acted off the field as well as on. The team came first and their personal needs were somewhere down the line.
The defensive side of the ball is where most real leaders seem to come from. There's plenty of opportunity on that side and I see no reason why freshmen can't come in and begin to earn those props from the first day they strap on the helmet.  The 2013 class is chock full of defensive recruits that obviously have the talent. Here's hoping they have the heart. It'll be fun to see them grow and become the Borens and Simons of the future.


kevinfrenchfry's picture

I'm sorry to say this and I'm glad the kid stayed 4 years and has a degree fr THE ohio state univ. but I'm glad Howard is gone from the secondary 

JYBUCKEYE's picture

I could not agree more.  I thought Howard was a huge liability.  Besides Roby this is the defensive group that I am most concerned with.  

buckeye4life050233's picture

Howard did play hurt alot this past year but they should have had someone better I totally agree......he definitely under-performed.  Hopefully D Grant can step up and then Apple could totally see the field at either star or corner depending on the weight room and Burrows very well the same......they are ready to play out of high school guys....

Maestro's picture

Silver Bullets Mount Up !!

vacuuming sucks

BoFuquel's picture

If you can't respect #10 and #1 as your leaders after what they did on the field last season then you had better be ready to do some serious soul searching.You are the one with a problem not the team.You have your leaders emulate them.GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

buckeyepastor's picture

I agree with others that Roby and Shazier have really set the tone on the field.  What is unknown is who is getting it done off the field.   I have seen Christian Bryant really improve from 2011 to 2012, so I think he could have a role in it, as well.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

I understand we are only returning 4 starters, but I believe the defense will be fine.  Washington, Spence, and Schutt got plenty of quality time last year as freshmen.   A second year under Coach Mick and another year in the scheme will produce great results.  The secondary will have experience and Grant will step in and play well.  The young guys will get some mop up time and give the starters a breather every now and then.  The LB group is intriguing to me.  I believe they will be young and inexperienced with the exception of Shazier, but I believe their speed and athleticism will make up for it.  I mean how many 200+ pound LB's run 4.4's?  Not many and we have 2 of them in Perkins and Mitchell.  I'm not sure of the other LB's 40 times, but I'm sure they aren't slow by any means.  I believe after the IU game last year the staff simplified the scheme a little more too.  I think we should be good to go in the 2013-2014 season. 

tampa buckeye's picture

Anyone think this defense can be really good?  Seems like they have tons of talented playmaker types.  Need someone to step up at mlb but they should be fast.  11 silver bullets flying around. 

BrewstersMillions's picture

Discipline will be the big factor for me. If these guys-who all can run-can play fast under control, there isn't an offense in the nation that can score on them enogh to out gun the OSU offense. Shazier got better at over pursuit. At times last year, he played too fast as odd as that sounds.

Knarcisi's picture

Agree with Brewtser, and yes, this D can be really good. Need to sure up the tackling. Young Ds can gel quicker than a young O.  Someone stepping up at LB is the obvious need. Not worried about the youth on the DL ... If you have youth anywhere on a D, I'll take it there, and I'll take the depth that we always have there.  The only small need fro DL from last year is pressure off the edge. Our schedule plays well, too, and will allow for some on field development. 

sir rickithda3rd's picture

speed will def not be an issue with this defense. i expect them to get better as the yr goes on experience is the only thing they lack.

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

buckeye76BHop's picture

I think we'll be pleasantly surprised by the players who step up and become leaders this year.  Personally I think that was lacking until mid year as it was well documented the MSU game was where it finally came together. Again, IMHO, that doesn't happen this year.  Leaders will step up and it will be the obvious ones (Shazier, Roby, Bryant, Hyde, Smith/Phlly B and Braxton).  It's not going to be who's going to take the reins like last year.  It will be on and popping at the Shoe in late August against Buffalo.  This I have no doubt...

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

gravey's picture

Reminds me a bit of the season after Hawk/Carpenter left.  Lots of question marks on D and an exciting O returning.  That season turned out very well...but I can't seem to remember how it ended.  I think I blacked out after the Michigan game.  

buckeyestu's picture

The players have something to play for unlike last year. I am so ready to see this version of the silver bullets. The offense should be awesome, taking the pressure off the young bullets. I can't hardly wait to see the speed and talent.

2002osubuck's picture

I'm hoping that Simon made an impression on some of the young guys and they continue his relentless early workouts. I know spence went with him often and grant, if I'm not mistaken, so hopefully they learned what real dedication is. It would be nice if shazier and roby mix their fire with some leadership and take charge.

buck-I.8's picture

I'd like to see Fickell and Vrabel really get on Shazier for his tackling fundamentals. He has the speed and athleticism to cover most of his errors right now, but NFL scouts are looking at everything this kid does this year, and it'll be huge for his future if he wraps up and slows down at times. That said, he's got a killer instinct, and in what may be his last year in Columbus, he promises excitement.

BuckeyeMike2002's picture

We all want that undefeated season and the crystal football coming back to Columbus and how close we get to that will rest in large part on the defense.
This has to be Roby and Shazier's defense initially. At the start they will have to be the vocal leaders. I think we're going to see a race in the early part of the season between talent and experience. The talent of the kids on the defense is unquestioned. I think it will be a matter of how quickly they can learn and gel. I don't mean learn as in the schemes that the coaches want them to run but learn how to play together. Think of the improvement Boren made between his first game as an LB and the end of the season. We need this group of linebackers to grow that much.
Braxton and the offense are going to score. We won't lose any 7-6 defensive battles this year, if we lose it will be a high scoring game that looks like Oregon playing West Virginia. Defense has to come along. They don't have to be perfect but they have to slow our opponents down enough that Braxton hits them more then they hit us.
Go Bucks.

Q: What is the difference between the Michigan Football Team and a bag of crap. A: The Bag.

Chise47's picture

Wild Card Pick: De'Van Bogard
If fully recovered from his injuries, this kid is my pick to take the "Star" ,(even over Vonn Bell; maybe this should be in the,'Bold Predictions', blog), he is QUITE the trash talker on the field, & has what all the kids call 'Swag' in bunches.
He was leading the ST's in tackles before injured easily, & from what I've seen over the years from watching football, ( & having played), ST standouts usually standout for a damn good reason!
That is all. 

osubuckeye4life's picture

Definitely, time for RDS and Roby Wan Kenobi to step up and lead this group to Pasadena! 
Lots of great buckeyes to replace. It will be interesting to see the battles at various positiions.
The Silver Bullets reload!
I'm so excited for Aug 31st!!!

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

A lot to replace on defence, but they have brought in a lot of talent along the defensive front.  Spence and Washington will be dominant.  Would love to see Grant step up and take control of the middle linebacker spot.  The freshman coming in will be some good ones too.