The Buckeyes lose two starters in defensive end Mike Kudla and tackle Marcus Green but I don't anticipate this group to fall off much. They kick David Patterson inside to take over Green's spot. Patterson was one of the best players up front last season. Patterson should at least cover the run stopping ability Green had while adding more of a pass rush. Should the outside need help; Patterson has experience at end as well. His tag team partner inside will be third year starter Quinn Pitcock. As I pointed out in last years preview, I don't think people appreciate Pitcock enough. He and Green were anchoring big men who kept interior lineman from reaching the linebackers on blocks. They did a great job of this, just look at Ohio State's line backing numbers from last year. While Patterson adds more options inside as far as stunting and combo twist, Pitcock is still the anchor. He plays with outstanding leverage and is a well coached player. He has the athletic ability to attack when needed, and anchor for the linebackers as well. He is the top returning lineman in the Big Ten, and is as good as they come in the nation.
Joel Penton will be the leading candidate inside to provide depth. Penton got good experience in reps last year and proved to servicable. He seems to be more in the Pincock anchoring type mold but he gives Ohio State something solid to work with and he will be the main rotation man. Besides Penton, there really isn't much proven depth but young talent. Sian Cotton is an athletic big man who I expected to break out last season but will absolutely have to this year. Redshirt freshman Todd Denlinger may be the best option left behind them, there is also Auburn transfer Juan Garnier and Nader Abdallah.
The potential problem for the Buckeyes could be at defensive end. Jay Richardson will start at one of the end spots but just has been too inconsistent for the Buckeyes to feel good about him there. The experience overall here isn't much but they are high on talent. I expect one or maybe two of the youngsters to win a starting job in Lawrence Wilson, Doug Worthington, or Vernon Gholston. Wilson is probably the best pass rusher of the bunch and showed flashes last season. I think Wilson's future is very bright: he is well built and could be a Will Smith type down the line. Worthington is a huge player coming off a red shirt year and it will be interesting to see where he is at in the spring. I think at some point if he starts putting on weight, he will be moved inside. Vernon Gholston is starting to look a lot like David Boston, and his outstanding strength should earn him a backup end spot. The one to watch may be sophomore Alex Barrow. True freshman Robert Rose is as physically ready as you could expect a freshman to be and could contribute in pass rushing situations if he doesn't red shirt. Overall it should be interesting as to how this position shakes out.
Well, obviously Ohio State loses the big three in AJ Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, and Bobby Carpenter but reload with some very respectable talent. First is replacing Carpenter at strong side linebacker. The Buckeyes have sophomore James Laurinaitis who played two games in place of the injured Carpenter last season. Laurinaitis will battle with incoming JUCO linebacker Larry Grant for the spot. Grant is very fast and considered by many as one of the top junior college prospects of the 2006 class. I expect Grant to win this battle.
In the middle, the Buckeyes return two very talented players who haven't contributed as much as they would have wanted to so far. Mike D'Andrea has battled injury after injury since coming out of high school as one of the top linebackers. Don't be surprised if former Indiana transfer John Kerr gets the nod in the starting lineup. I watched John his freshman year at Indiana and he was a great linebacker, outstanding instincts and tackling ability despite some athletic limitations. Chad Hoobler will look to regroup this season, he could be a backup in the middle or could move to an outside job. Austin Spitler would move up if Chad Hoobler moves to outside linebacker.
Weakside linebacker will likely go to sophomore Marcus Freeman. Freeman took a red shirt last season but he is as athletic as they come for the position. Curtis Terry could be a backup here, he did most of his work on special teams last season but is a solid linebacker. A freshman will likely figure in here somewhere, possibly Thaddeus Gibson or Ross Homan if they don't red shirt. Overall, the Buckeyes have three new starters in the lineup and the experience isn't all there but the young talent is plentiful.
Possibly the make or break area of the defense in 2006. At cornerback Ohio State lost stud Ashton Youboty to the draft and senior Tyler Everett who started all but three games last year. Who will replace them? Well one name should be in cement and that is Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins was a nickel man as a freshman and filled the starting role for Everett when he was down. Jenkins has great size, cover skills and has been impressive thus far. The next cornerback position will be up for grabs between red shirt freshman Andre Amos, true freshman Kurt Coleman, sophomore Brandon Underwood and possibly senior Mike Roberts. Don't be surprised to see ole' number seven Ted Ginn Jr. slide in here from time to time.
My money is on Amos to win the job but first I have to clarify something. Andre Amos came in billed as "the guy who shut down Mario Manningham." Folks, that just isn't true. At the Ohio North-South All Star Game in 2005, it's true he stuck with Mario pretty well but you have to remember a few things. One, Manningham had helped build his team a lead with two touchdowns going into the second half and the North chose to ride Tyrell Sutton to victory. There was no need to throw and the few times they did, the throws were off. It wasn't until the Big 33 practices Manningham would prove the naysayers wrong. Our own Gene Hankerson was at the practices and this is what he had to say: "Whether is was an in, out, or dig route, Amos simply couldn't stop Mario from catching the ball and turning it up field for big plays. Just when Amos would begin to get comfortable and try to jump the short patterns, Mario would take him deep. This would happen repeatedly, as Amos had no answer for Mario." Ok, now that myth busting is out of the way, on with the preview.
I actually like Andre Amos, a lot. I think this young man is going to be an All Big Ten defensive back in the future. He is very athletic for one, and has top corner instincts. I really like what I saw on his high school tapes and at the Ohio North-South Game. I also think Kurt Coleman could contribute immediately at cornerback. Had Ohio State landed a top cornerback or two here, Coleman would and should be playing safety but he has the skill to adapt at cornerback. I don't know too many defensive backs in the 2006 class that have been instincts and breaking skills than Coleman. Brandon Underwood has his issues but could contribute if he puts it all together. Same applies to Mike Roberts who is very fast and should have a backup job going into the spring.
Senior Nate Salley is gone and will be replaced by another senior in Brandon Mitchell. Mitchell has great size and experience but the depth here could be questionable. Sirjo Welch and Antonio Smith don't have much experience outside of special teams. Devon Lyons is reportedly moving over from receiver to help here and brings size and athletic ability to the position but obviously has a lot to learn.
As yours truly predicted back in June, Jamario O'Neal wouldn't last long at cornerback. It is likely O'Neal will replace the departed Donte Whitner at strong safety. I think Jamario will maximize his potential here because it puts him near the line of scrimmage where he can really shine. O'Neal is an outstanding athlete who with some time and coaching should develop into a solid defensive back. Providing depth will be Nick Patterson who is another top special teams player like Welch and Antonio Smith. Curt Lukens has moved to safety from linebacker and could hop Patterson on the two deep if he stays healthy.
Turel Previews '06 Big Ten: OSU Defense
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