With Ohio State spring football only a week away, we are previewing the personnel.
After starting with the offense, it is time for the defense, where a pair of new coordinators (Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley) are in place and things could look a lot different this fall despite many familiar faces returning.
Returning starters: Tackle Robert Landers, ends Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper, linebackers Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison and Pete Werner, cornerback Damon Arnette, safeties Brendon White and Jordan Fuller.
Rising: Shaun Wade, Jeffrey Okudah, Davon Hamilton, Tyreke Smith, Taron Vincent, Tommy Togiai,
Newcomers: Zach Harrison, Noah Potter, Ronnie Hickman
Others to keep an eye on: Justin Hilliard, Baron Browning, Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell, K’Vaughn Pope, Jashon Cornell, Javontea Jean-Baptiste, Tyler Friday, Sevyn Banks, Cameron Brown, Tyreke Johnson, Marcus Williamson
As usual, Larry Johnson has plenty of options in filling out a rotation. Unlike last season, the Ohio State defensive line coach won’t have to rely on freshmen to do it.
Smith, Friday, Vincent and Togiai got their feet wet last year and could be posed for a jump in production in year two.
Of course, just because Johnson doesn’t have to play freshmen doesn’t mean he won’t. Zach Harrison, a five-star prospect from the Columbus suburbs, might still prove too talented to keep off the field.
New position coach Al Washington stopped short of saying all jobs are open this spring, but it’s unlikely anyone is safe after back-to-back disappointing seasons for this unit.
While the coaching staff insisted the starters performed better than the public perceived, there are plenty of talented options behind them.
Browning is a 2017 five-star prospect who struggled early in a part-time role last season but flashed a few times late in the campaign.
Gant, Mitchell and Pope are all four-star sophomores who got their feet wet on special teams last season and would love to pounce on a chance for more playing time under new leadership.
Hilliard is another wild card as he was the top-rated player in Ohio four years ago at Cincinnati St. Xavier only to have injuries hinder him early in his career. After becoming a special teams stalwart last season, could the fifth-year senior finish with a flourish?
New coaches Hafley and Matt Barnes should benefit from something their predecessors did not have last season: A group with a lot of playing experience.
Arnette is back for his seniors season after two solid-but-unspectacular years, and Okudah will be expected to flourish as a five-star junior who was part of the three-man rotation with Arnette and Kendall Sheffield last season. (Sheffield left early for the NFL draft.)
Banks, Brown, Johnson and Williamson are all four-star prospects still looking for their first meaningful playing time. Like linebacker, cornerback could be a position where new eyeballs equal new players in prominent roles.
Fuller, one of the few returning starters last season, was expected to emerge as a star at safety but lacked consistency. He was still much better than whoever was playing the other safety spot until White ran with an opportunity created by injuries and Fuller’s ejection for targeting in the Nebraska game in early November.
With White in place from the beginning, the last line of defense could go from a weakness to a strength if Fuller returns to his 2017 form. Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint, who both underwhelmed in starting opportunities last season, are also back and could benefit from new position coaches.
What the new staff does with Wade will be interesting. Another five-star talent, he played safety, nickel and cornerback last season after injuries forced him to redshirt in 2017.
Wade struggled in coverage inside against slot receivers but looks to have the tools to excel on the outside. He may not be needed at safety anymore with the emergence of White and the return of Fuller.