For the last installment of my position breakdown series, I will look at the defensive backfield.
I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that All-American (and arguably the best CB in the nation last year) Malcolm Jenkins is gone and “starter” Donald Washington is also gone (he was in the doghouse so much I would call him a sometimes starter).
That means that Ohio State will be looking to replace two corners from last years team. On the bright side, as I mentioned, Washington missed quite a bit of time for various reasons which allowed Chimdi Chekwa to gain plenty of experience as a starting corner last year. More on that later though, on to the good news.
The good news is that both of the safeties are back. Making this good news even better, both of the safeties are each entering their third year as a starter.
First up is starting strong safety and captain #4 Kurt Coleman. Coleman briefly considered turning pro after last season before deciding to come back for his senior year (maybe will channel his inner Doss in 2009, we can only hope). He is the leading returning tackler on the team (78 tackles in 2008) and also led the team with 4 interceptions last season.
Coleman is a ball hawk and a leader not just of the defense, but of the entire team. He should be a key component of the Buckeye defense in 2009 and is one of the best players on the team.
Backing up Coleman at SS are redshirt freshman Orhian Johnson (#19) and senior Aaron Gant (#8). Johnson is long and lanky for a SS at 6’2″ and 178 pounds but he has tremendous athletic ability and a knack for going up and getting jump balls. He has obviously been impressive during practice because he is listed ahead of Gant (Tressel is loyal to his seniors and all that) on the depth chart.
Gant has been a solid contributor on special teams for his entire career and has seen some time on defense. He is a big hitter but the fact that he has been passed up by Johnson on the depth chart makes me think that he probably has trouble in pass coverage.
Johnson apparently has an ankle injury so it looks like it will be Coleman and Gant (edit: it seems like Gant may have suffered an injury now as well, I will be curious to see who plays at safety tomorrow) at SS for the Navy game. Johnson probably won’t miss very much time with the injury, so the Buckeyes look to be solid at strong safety in 2009.
The other three year starter coming back at free safety is redshirt senior Anderson Russell (#21), who has significant experience (obviously) and will be another leader on the defense.
Last year Russell had 67 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles. I expect Russell to be a solid contributor this season, but he has Jermale Hines nipping at his heels for starting time.
That brings us to the (somewhat surprising) backup at free safety, Jermale Hines (#7). I think Hines will get most of his reps this year in the nickel formations when an extra DB is brought on the field to replace a linebacker (which is usually done against spread teams), but the fact that he is listed as the backup at safety is encouraging because it means he is impressing the coaches.
Hines is a junior who received extensive playing time last year and I think he will see the field extensively this year as well. As I mentioned, there have been reports that Hines is pushing Russell for the starting spot at safety which means that Hines must be doing something right.
Even if Hines doesn’t end up starting at safety, he will see the field plenty this year and with his speed and hitting ability, he will be an impact player on the defense.
With Russell and Hines, free safety is solid for 2009 as well.
If you are feeling pretty good right now about our secondary (and you should be, our safeties are going to be good), I am about to rain on your parade, sorry.
Cornerback is the biggest question mark on the entire team as far as I’m concerned. I think the players here have the ability to perform but have had very few chances to prove it, leaving questions (and concerns) galore.
One thing that hasn’t been a question is that redshirt junior Chimdi Chekwa (#5) will be starting at one of the cornerback positions. Chekwa has plenty of starting experience as a cornerback (in 2008) and as a nickelback (in 2007), but with the departure of Jenkins he will be expected to step in and become the next lock down corner at Ohio State.
Chekwa has ideal size (6’0″ 188 lbs.) and speed (anchored the 4×1 relay team that won the Big Ten championship in the spring) and I am confident that he has the ability to cover the best receivers in the nation, but until he actually does it there will still be some doubt in people’s minds (also raising some doubts, at least for me, is the fact that Texas went Chekwa’s way constantly in the Fiesta Bowl).
Backing up Chekwa is redshirt freshman Travis Howard (#18) who unfortunately has been hit by the injury bug and will miss the game against Navy. Howard is a young guy who has tons of potential but limited experience and losing him is a bit troublesome as it leaves the Buckeyes thin at an already thin position. Hopefully Howard will be able to return to the field soon and gain some much needed experience.
Battling for the starting spot opposite Chekwa are 5th year senior Andre Amos (#13) and junior Devon Torrence (#10). Amos has had injury problems his entire career up to this point and Torrence has played baseball in the Houston Astros farm system for the past several years and has only seen limited action at cornerback, making both huge question marks.
[little side note here: I can't seem to find a single picture of Torrence or Amos playing in a game, which I think illustrates the whole "lacking experience" thing nicely]
BothAmos and Torrence have good size (both are listed at 6’1″ and around 185 lbs.) and elite athleticism, but like I said, neither has seen much game action which is cause for concern. Also, neither player has separated themselves as the starter (even though Amos is listed as the starter) and they will both probably rotate frequently.
So, big questions at cornerback, and considering the anemic Navy passing attack, we may have to wait until September 12th to find out what shape we are in at the position. That makes me more than a little nervous.
Hopefully the defensive line will be able to get plenty of pressure on apposing QBs and the safeties will be able to provide the leadership (and the over the top help) needed to allow the CBs to transition into their new starting rolls seamlessly. That would be the ideal situation. Cross your fingers (only with one hand though, save your other hand to cross your fingers for the offensive line), I know I will be.
That wraps it up for my position previews (whew!). If you will notice, there is now a bar at the top of the BBC homepage (thanks Jeff!) that has links to all of the previews I have done. Remember to check back periodically throughout the year for updated reviews of how each position is performing.
I am not sure what position I will start with or when I will do them, but the situation at offensive tackle has already changed drastically since my preview (Mike Adams has been demoted to third string and is suspended for at least the first game) and the situation on the defensive line looks to be even more fluid than I anticipated (Doug Worthington claims that he will play as much at DE as Heyward this year) so there should be plenty to talk about.
I have had fun doing these breakdowns and I hope you enjoyed reading them and continue coming back to The Buckeye Battle Cry throughout the season. I think that we will have plenty of interesting material to keep you occupied during the week as you daydream of football at work.
In 2008, The Buckeye Battle Cry selected Andre Amos as our honoree for Day #13, and a few readers were disappointed over the decision. The argument over excluding Maurice Clarett was that you cannot ignore the on-field success Clarett brought just because he was an off-field jackass.
One year later, we’re convinced.
Men Of The Scarlet And Gray used to refer to Clarett as HWSNBN (“He Who Shall Not Be Named”), because we didn’t really want to find ourselves associated with the stupid stuff that he went to jail over. But as time has passed, I’ve come to the realization that Clarett is a shining example of Jim Tressel doing his job RIGHT when it comes to problem cases.
Clarett was a superstar and he helped this team get that 14-0 record and the National Championship in 2002. He actually only played in 10 games as a Buckeye, but when he did hit the field, it was huge. We can never forget what he did for this team.
But shunning his on-field legacy is no longer necessary. Hell, haters are going to use his name whenever they want to bash us (and when you’re as inept as Michigan fans and their blogs are, using the name “Maurice Clarett” is the equivalent of Godwin’s Law….whenever they find that they cannot win an argument based on facts, they whip out his name and declare victory).
When Clarett began running into trouble, Tressel and Ohio State did EXACTLY what they should have done. First, they watched him like a hawk and cracked the whip. But when that became useless, they again did the right thing. They cut him loose.
Haters will claim that Ohio State is a criminal organization based simply on what Clarett did. But they fail to realize that his crimes were committed AFTER he left the University. We tried to keep him under control, and when that failed, he was gone. Not our problem anymore. As soon as his first legal issue arose, he was no longer a member of this football team. Gone. Vamoose. See ya.
As for Michigan players?
So take your faux-outrage elsewhere and enjoy your losing streak.
Meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy our latest honoree in the countdown – Maurice Clarett, thanks for the good times. Clean it up, bro. You deserve better.
13 days until kickoff!
EDIT by MaliBuckeye- I absolutely agree with Jeff’s decision to honor MoC- He was a part of an amazing 2002 season, and will always be a part of the Buckeye family.
Two additions to this post: Many people point to #13 as a reflection of not only Ohio State’s alleged “thug” culture, but also their being a team of Sweatervest McCheatypants; the allegations of improper benefits swirling like midwestern leaves in November.
However, the record will show that none of these allegations about Maurice were proven to be accurate. The NCAA conducted a full investigation (unlike some places), and no impropriety was found (unlike some other places).
The second area I wanted to highlight is a correction, somewhat, to Jeff’s remark that Ohio State “cut him loose”.
While that’s certainly true for his athletic career, the fact remains that Tressel is concerned more about what happens to a student athlete after he graduates. As such, the fact that he and Maurice have stayed in contact even through these difficult years in #13′s life should not be seen as a surprise to anyone who knows his vision for the program.
For your successes on the field and the ones yet to come, we honor you on day 13.