Previewing the 2013 Buckeye Defense

By Johnny Ginter on August 14, 2013 at 2:00p
THIS IS SHAZIER TAP Eleven Warriors Ohio State Football 2013 Season Preview

Last year something happened in Ohio State football that I thought I'd never live to see the day: the defense, the pride and joy of Ohio State fans, players, and coaches, was suddenly the weak link on the team. The offense, which for years under Jim Tressel had been a strictly optional part of the college football experience, was now in the position of having to repeatedly bail out a leaky defense that gave up a big plays and huge chunks of yardage.

Of course despite that, the story has a happy ending. Ohio State went undefeated, and while the defense had some glaring holes, there was enough spackle in the garage to patch them up enough to beat everyone on the schedule.

This year the stakes are higher. The Buckeyes can actually play in postseason games now, including the BCS National Championship. To do that, the defense is going to have to replace several starters, overcome a major loss at the beginning of the season, and find a way to keep the middle of the defense intact.

Let's take a look at the various units on the defense:

Defensive line

On paper, this should be a strength of the team, with some caveats. The 2012 d-line was hyped up to be one of the best in recent memory and while it was good, it never reached that lofty status. Because of that, it might be wise to temper the wild expectations that some people have for tauted sophomores like Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence... and replace it with wild expectations for Joey Bosa and the fast charging Tommy Schutt!

Michael Bennett and Joel Hale are considered to be the starters for the defensive line through the middle, and given this group as a whole, the concern remains the same as last season: a lack of pass rushers who can cause consistent havoc on the outside of the line. Washington may end up listed as a DE, but he's really more of a hybrid 3-5 technique guy in the mold of a Cam Heyward. Spence may be the only real pass rusher in the group, so the hope is that Bennett and Hale are hardy enough to hold down the interior of the line themselves.

In any case, this should be a very talented but not particularly deep group who needs to prove themselves on the field as starters before we start going crazy.


This is where things start to get dicey. Shazier is the obvious leader here. His second half of 2012 was as good or better than any other linebacker in the country, managing 11 tackles for loss and three sacks in his last five games. Had he played like that from the outset he would've earned the Butkus in a walk, and ideally he'll continue that form in 2013.


After Shazier you've got Curtis Grant (who's been sidelined with a concussion and a career-long case of the not-quite-there-yets), Joshua Perry (who has a career total of five tackles), Camren Williams (who has four), and true freshman Mike Mitchell who has apparently worked himself to second in the depth chart at MLB despite, you know, being a true freshman.

Part of what will help here is the fact that Ohio State will likely continue playing a lot of nickel this season, meaning that linebackers won't be at a premium. Part of what won't help is the fact that unless Grant finally, finally realizes his potential, you're looking for answers from two guys with very little experience and a true freshman. If opposing defenses start finding soft spots in the middle of the defensive line, there's no Zach Boren walking through the door to save everyone's butts.


This is easily the most intriguing part of the defense. The defensive line and linebackers are fairly well settled, in part because of some solid starters but mostly because there are few options.

This is not the case in the secondary. Urban has recruited extremely well in the secondary with his first few recruiting classes, and there is a wealth of talent waiting to be utilized. If this group as a collective whole can compensate for a lot of whatever shortcomings might be in front of them, and could end up being the saving grace of the entire defense.

The safeties are CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant, who have both shown flashes of brilliance and complete idiocy on the field. Bryant in particular shows the potential to be an All Big Ten type of player, but the mental aspect of his game has to be more consistent, especially when it comes to coverage switching and positioning in general. Both of these guys are big hitters, and it'll also be interesting to see how they adapt to the new contact rules in the Big Ten.

Their young backups will also be very interesting to watch. Vonn Bell is apparently looking like the real deal in camp, as is Tyvis Powell. Pittsburgh Brown and Ron Tanner also provide some experience, and overall this is not a group hurting for depth.

Roby will almost certainly be suspended for a few games at least, so in his stead will likely be a guy like Armani Reeves or possibly Eli Apple. Doran Grant will have to step up in Roby's absence, because even with one of the best corners in the country on the field, some teams were able to pass all over OSU last season. If he can't hack it, expect one of the freshman lurking behind him to get a shot at the starting gig.

A few stats: last year, Ohio State had a passing defense ranked 78th in the country. To put that in perspective, only one Big Ten team (Northwestern) was worse in defending the pass, and the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide gave up an average of 70 fewer yards per game through the air. In 2012 Ohio State also gave up 24 plays of 30 yards or more, and six plays of 70 yards or more.

Ohio State should be improved on defense from last season; the scheme should be cohesive and consistent as a whole, there is a glut of potential playmakers in the backfield, and hopefully some of the younger players on the defensive line progress as well as many expect them to. Expect the Buckeyes to implement the "bend but don't break" style of defense that you saw in the Jim Tressel years. Yeah, I'm sure it made a lot of you pretty angry to see corners and safeties playing off their men, but the truth of it is that if you have superior athletes (as Ohio State does), it can work.

With that said, if the goal is to win a national championship then the two biggest areas that the Buckeyes must improve on are pass defense and giving up big plays. The latter can be solved by having a sound defensive scheme that is adhered to and sound tackling from the defense as a whole. The former will require individual efforts from players, some still unproven, to minimize the ability of opponents to get back in games quickly. Also key will be the play of the interior of the defensive line. It is crucial that they are able to clog up the middle without the help of linebackers, because the more a unit needs help, the more it exposes the rest of the squad.

In any case, the defense shouldn't have to be dominant in 2013, given the abilities of the offense. But it will have to be consistent, and improving from the 34th ranked defense overall in 2012 to a top 15 unit should be a reasonable goal.


Comments Show All Comments

RedStorm45's picture

Hearing they are playing quite a bit of 3-2-6 on 3rd and long situations and against the spread attacks.  4-2-5 may be more of a base until Wisconsin (and similar teams) show up on the schedule.

Citrus's picture

Agreed. My only "worry" is that this D seems a little thin in the middle and maybe vulnerable to the classic rock pounding Badgeresque teams of the B1G. That said, the D was best in those types of games last year. 

whobdis's picture

I think the jury is still out on Luke as a DC..he's still learning of course. I think Urban's increased invovlement last year and Withers having them play more of his cover 4 had as much to do with the D improvement as Boren moving. Luke is not taking bad angles or missing tackles but he responsible for what we see on the field. I'm also a bit concerned over how many LB's are 'slow' to get down the schemes and assignments. A couple of guys would be fine..but it sounds like it's more than a couple and if that's the may not simply be the players. I don't think this is the BEST D we've had but I think the talent is better than was shown last year.

USMC11917's picture

We need to shore up our pass defense and answer a ton of questions on the defense as a whole. My biggest concern isn't with the passing teams though. I am truly concerned with the Alabama type teams that can beat you both ways and the Wisconsin type teams that will run it up the gut and gash you with hard, sturdy power rushing.
We faired well last year against Michigan St but they weren't really a passing threat. We played relatively well versus Wisconsin though Ball put up monster yards against us. Look at how many rushing yard Denard put on us against _ichigan. This lack of established linebackers has me concerned should we face Alabama or another excellent rushing/balanced attacking team in a big game. We will know more toward the end of the season and have a better understanding of where the team sits then. I am in wait and see mode right now.

Doc's picture

I said this yesterday, and I'll say it again here today.  I think Fickell's seat is warm this year.  He needs to have a defense that comes out swinging..  Knows their 1/11th and are strong/sound tacklers.  If his schemes aren't sound and the linebackers are roasted on a frequent basis his days are numbered. 

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

ToledoBuckeye's picture

Is this the reason they brought back Jim Heacock?

"Anything easy ain't worth a damn." - Woody Hayes

BucksfanXC's picture

I think you are right and I think instead of firing him they are letting him do less with the same title until someone hires him as a Head Coach.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

SOF_Buckeye's picture

No doubt the Defense is the biggest question mark. While there is consternation in many of our hearts, I believe it will be a strength by midseason, if not sooner. 
Tackling is priority one. If that is improved as it should be, this 'big play' area of concern will become a negligible worry. The pass defense will largely be determined by the pass rush, as our secondary personnel are relatively experienced. I'm mostly worried about the strong running attach mentioned by others. A strong inside of the line will be paramount. Here's hoping Chris Carter and his beard will be a part of a strong defensive line.

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." Woody Hayes

gravey's picture

Tackle better.  We stunk at RAC yards last year.  I'm very surprised that this article only mentioned tackling once and only one comment so far has discussed it.  
Oh...and when the ball hits the DB in the hands or numbers - hang on.
That D would have been much better last year with better tackling and more picks.
I'm hoping they get those two things fixed this year or our optimism is going to get very sour.

builderofcoalitions's picture

When you run the spread, you give up more yards and points due to less rest for your D and the urgency of the other team to keep up in the scoring. Add in the fact that the co-defensive coordinators (Fickel and Whithers) were not accustomed to managing defenses with Meyer's offensive philosophy. Plus, this team was built to stop Wisconsin and MSU, not all the spread teams that have popped up. Finally, the d-line was the overwhelming strength of the defense last year with the LB's the obvious weakness. Doesn't it make sense that every team might have created schemes to take advantage of this imbalance? If the LB's are better this year - and they should be - the defense will be fine.

Because we couldn't go for three.

BTBuckeye's picture

I think Josh Perry is overlooked. He's a beast and will show it this year. He's been around the program for 3 years if I recall correctly. Time to shine son. The Chase is on!

RedStorm45's picture

He was a 2012 recruit, so he's a sophomore.

BenArazi4's picture

I like Perry cause he's a monster, he has the speed and seems like he gets it, I think he'll step up.  We all know Shazier is going to be a beast but we're going to need a 3rd guy to step up, especially if we get Bama in the title game.




Hovenaut's picture

All eyes on the linebackers, or mine are at least. And hello there, Mr. Grant.

All other concerns (defensive line experience and ability against the run, what/who/when/how we will see with the secondary) are going to either be heightened or lessened based on the stability of the LB crew.

We absolutely have to have a solid second LB....AT THE LEAST, and I'm hoping it's the guy who came here with such promise (Grant was the number two overall player in the '11 class). Grant is too talented and experienced for that to go to waste.

Also hoping to dominate the field position game. Punting may be part of special teams, but Cameron Johnston hopefully can support the d and keep opponents down under. I look back to how integral Andy Groom and BJ Sander were in setting up the defenses of the '02 and '03 teams.

Plenty of questions, but plenty of promise.

stevebelliseeya's picture

The Abusement Park is in the 2 deep. 

"We are eternal. All this pain is an illusion." - Tool

Boomcat's picture

If I remember, last year during camp there wasn't much talk of the D-line being "unblockable". This year however, we have been hearing that a lot. Just something to think about. I think our line will be fantastic this year. 

chirobuck's picture

I think its kind of a glass half empty way to look at the pass say Washinton doesn't really give you a pass rush only Spence is a true pass rusher I can't agree with
Just because Washington is big doesn't mean he can't get pressure in fact I thought with limited playing time last year he was a little more consistent with pressure than Spence and remember it was Washington not Spence that beat Lewan off the edge in "The Game"


^ best post ever ^

InHartWeTrust's picture

Agreed, just because Diesel has been tagged the "run stopper" and Spence the "pass rusher" doesn't mean they can't do the other...
I seem to remember Diesel getting quite a few sacks in the Spring game.

Squirrel Master's picture

Josh Perry overlooked, how about the absolute disappearance of Trey Johnson? Its not just Mike Mitchell as a super frosh that we are looking for early PT at linebacker, Johnson should be in the conversation as well. At the very least the position should have 2 deep for all 3 positions. RDS, CG, JP, MM, TJ, CW and now joe burger too. That is 7 very talented bodies that should be able to fill at the very least 2 spots.
and I think the Dline is deeper than this write up states. I really believe Michael Hill, Jamal Marcus, Tyquan Lewis, Steve Miller and Chris Carter can really help the depth on this team. If by chance something happens to Spence and Washington, I don't think they can be replaced, but I am comfortable that there is lots of talent on that line.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

SOF_Buckeye's picture

Squirrel, I had been wondering on the lack of information on Trey Johnson also. I've seen it mentioned over the past couple of days that he's been dealing with 'leg' issues. I'd like to hear what those are and how serious. I've had a feeling he could/can really be a contributor. Hopefully the issue isn't serious.

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." Woody Hayes

Urban Nation Army's picture

He is #2 at Will according to the Ozone (link further down). The injury just kept him out of some conversation.

Bet you can't say "Bert Bielma is a bumbling buffoon" five times fast.

SOF_Buckeye's picture

Thanks UNA....!

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." Woody Hayes

InHartWeTrust's picture

Johnson is/was hurt, holding him back.

Urban Nation Army's picture

Defense two deep projection from the Ozone:

Bet you can't say "Bert Bielma is a bumbling buffoon" five times fast.

RedStorm45's picture

Interesting that they left Price and Mike Hill off their projected 2-deep.  Haven't heard much of Chris Carter yet they have him as the #2 NT.
Craig Fada backing up JP?  What happened to Cam Williams?
They have Adam Griffin backing up Powell at the STAR, but haven't we been hearing more about Vonn Bell?  And Gareon Conley pushing for a spot, but he's nowhere on their 2-deep.

Urban Nation Army's picture

Yeah this does leave a little to be desired. It sounds like Bosa could be ahead of Miller for SSDE in addition to what you said. You will notice that Bell is listed as the #2 FS

Bet you can't say "Bert Bielma is a bumbling buffoon" five times fast.

FLAMikey's picture

Seems like Kerry Coombs has gotten a bit of a pass considering last years yds per game passing allowed and dicey special teams play. I know everyone loves his recruiting/motivational speech exploits, but I've got to believe that he is going to find himself sitting on a very hot seat if pass D and special teams don't improve dramatically.

Urban Nation Army's picture

It's not all about the corners, the safeties are a big part of that too. One of his guys was an All-American last year, but the pass defense number definitely needs to improve. A lot of that would be helped by making sure tackles on short passes and not allowing them to turn into bigger gains. Communication breakdowns are basically the worst thing that can happen where an assignment is missed. The coaches definitely need to make sure the players will be able to avoid these.

Bet you can't say "Bert Bielma is a bumbling buffoon" five times fast.

FLAMikey's picture

who is the position coach for safeties?

Urban Nation Army's picture


Bet you can't say "Bert Bielma is a bumbling buffoon" five times fast.

RedStorm45's picture

Don't think he was Special Teams Coordinator (or whatever the title is) until after the season.

okiebuck's picture

In my mind these guys have to earn the title of Silver Bullets; they certainly were not last year. The guys; from the D line on back to the secondary MUST wrap up and tackle better; period. That is 100% on the players regardless of the defense that they are in and who the DC is. Our tackling last year was the worst I've seen from a Buckeye team in 40 years; we get that buttoned up and we will roll!

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

Seattle Linga's picture

Chris Carter - the guy decides that the Hall of Fame wasn't enough so he re-enrolls - puts on a few pounds and thinks he can play nose tackle.

pjtobin's picture

Great read. I'm curious to know how many big plays we gave up after the runner "broke" the first initial tackle. Is that something that someone smarter than myself could find out?

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

chicagobuckeye's picture

Possibly an opponents yards after contact? Probably doesn't account for all of it, but at least a start.

buckskin's picture

I know Chris Spielman was a once in a lifetime LB, but what if Mitchell could step in as a freshman and make a similar impact that Chris made his freshman year?  Still hoping Grant gets it though.

buckskin's picture

Von Bell will be ringing some bells as the AC/DC bells are ringing in the Shoe.

elmird's picture

I feel like the offense being even more efficient, particularly in the first quarter will help out the defense tremendously. Getting teams in obvious passing situations will allow us to pin our ears back and have a tremendous pass rush. We just have to avoid the pitfall first quarter/half that we were prone to having last season

THEBEAROSU's picture

Why is everybody bashing Luke Fickle. He has been around a number of years when the bucks defense has been great and producing some of the best players in the country. Believe me if he wasn't doing his job Urban would have done made changes. He's not afraid to hurt your feelings if your not doing what he see's as the best with what he has. I agree that the defense is going to be a weak link  for the team. All we can do is watch and hope as the season progresses it will mature and get better.


BucksfanXC's picture

I think the defense having an off year is not something we are used to as Buckeye fans and we are looking for somebody to blame. Remember all the people who were ready to lynch Tressel after every loss. I lump myself in there. I'd put money down now that it will start whenever Urban gets his first loss.
I have thought for a long time that Luke Fickell is a great coach, just not ready to be THE coach. He was fine when he's in charge of linebackers or just lineman, but when he is the DC (I won't judge him on that one time he was HC that we don't talk about) he just seems to not be quite "there" yet.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Any chance the depth at d-line helps cover up the inexperience?  I know we have very little experience, but rotating guys in and out should help keep everyone fresh.  Also, what about Tyquan Lewis?  We haven't heard a lot about him?  I was hoping to see him coming off of the edge some this season.  Kid could be a monster pass rushing.