Ohio State Buckeyes College Football Preview 2021: Defense
– Lost in the run to yet another Big Ten championship and to the College Football Playoff National Championship appearance was how the defense was just okay. It wasn’t awful, and it certainly had its good moments, but it struggled in a big, big way at times in pass coverage – allowing a Big Ten-worst 304 yards per game – and wasn’t always as strong as it should’ve been at getting behind the line.
Five starters are back with the linebacking corps undergoing a reboot and with a few new parts up front needing to rise up.
Again, though, it wasn’t an awful defense – it could be better, and that might need time, starting, again, with …
– The linebackers – Ohio State needs new ones. Defensive Kerry Coombs will likely go with more of a 4-2-5 alignment to get an extra safety on the field – the Bullet position in this D – but it still hurts to lose the team’s two top tacklers, Pete Werner and Tuf Borland.
Instead of thinking of this as a problem, it’s more like a Next Guy Up thing with veteran backups ready to show what they can do. That starts with 6-3, 235-pound senior Dallas Gant in the middle. He’s a big tackler who came up with 17 stops, but he’s not alone with a good-looking group of parts who’ll push for time.
235-pound senior Teradja Mitchell will work on the outside with the upside to grow into an all-around playmaker who’ll live in the backfield. Just like in the middle, there are a slew of talented prospects who’ll push for time.
– The defensive front might need to do more in the backfield, but it’s going to be a brick wall against the run. The 300-pound tackle combination of Haskell Garrett and Antwuan Jackson is experienced and – if possible for Ohio State – under-the-radar great, and the defensive end combination of Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison should be terrific. If super-recruit Jack Sawyer turns into a factor, the ends will be a terror.
The secondary loses Shaun Wade – a solid corner who wasn’t quite up to the normal Ohio State superstar DB snuff – but Sevyn Banks is a good No. 1 corner who can hit, and Cameron Brown should be ready to roll after suffering an Achilles heel injury.
This might not be an elite group of corners, but they’re good enough to be among the Big Ten’s best. The safeties are experienced, but consistency will be the key.
Sophomore Ronnie Hickman is more of a safety-playing-linebacker at the Bullet – really, it’s a strong safety – and Craig Young is more of a linebacker-playing-safety at the position, but the Buckeyes are okay here either way depending on the alignment.
Veteran safety Marcus Hooker was suspended from the team after pleading guilty for operating a vehicle while impaired, but he’s a factor after starting every game last year if and when he’s back in the mix. Either way, 6-2, 195-pound senior Josh Proctor is likely the starter at free safety, and the combination of Marcus Williamson and Lathan Ransom will work like an inside corner/safety.