LINEBACKERS: Must overcome the loss of two stars, Brian Rolle and Ross Homan.
Andrew Sweat: Sweat has been an impressive performer since seeing limited duty as a freshman, and it's hard to fathom he's entering his senior season at Ohio State. Sweat is a play-maker in the mold of Homan, and he is a potential defensive captain. FORECAST: Sweat should be on the field full-time in 2011, after alternating with Tyler Moeller most of the year, and could end up as an All-Big Ten linebacker.
Tyler Moeller: This could be the year Moeller plays every down as a traditional linebacker, playing the run, blitzing the quarterback, and dropping into coverage. Ohio State could scrap the STAR position as a situational spot, and just install Moeller as a traditional SAM linebacker. Moeller is too valuable to leave the field, and versatile enough to handle every situation. FORECAST: If healthy, Moeller will be an impact player for Ohio State in 2011.
Etienne Sabino: Has patiently waited his turn, and this should be the year Ohio State fans see Sabino as an every-down linebacker. Should inherit the middle from Rolle, and be ready to live up to the recruiting hype. FORECAST: Like 2010, Sabino will get first shot at a vacated spot, but this should be the year he hangs onto the job.
Dorian Bell: Like so many of his classmates, Bell has suffered from injury problems since the day he arrived at Ohio State. Has shown flashes on special teams and in practice, so the talent is there. FORECAST: If healthy, Bell can push for playing time in 2011, and set himself up as a starter in 2012, when Moeller and Sweat leave.
Storm Klein: Like Bell, Klein has shown he can play the middle in the limited reps he's received, but has also been injured often. Should be ready to step in and contribute in 2011. FORECAST: Klein needs to be 100% healthy, and challenge Sabino for the middle linebacker spot.
Jordan Whiting: Hasn't yet been able to crack any meaningful playing time, and also will be suspended for one game in 2011, which won't endear him to the coaching staff. Is he a transfer candidate? FORECAST: Whiting needs to be able to prove he can be a reliable backup in 2011, then push for a starter's spot in 2012.
Jonathan Newsome: Was called upon to play against Wisconsin after the injury to Homan, and probably wasn't ready for that call. Might end up being better suited for the LEO defensive spot if he gets bigger and stronger, but he has athletic ability. FORECAST: Newsome should have red-shirted as a true freshman, and playing him was a mistake. He needs to prove he is ready for extended playing time in 2011, or risk being passed by younger players.
Scott McVey: A serious shoulder injury ended his season before it began in 2010. When healthy, there is a spot in this defense for McVey, who is very similar to Moeller as a player. With four years left to play, there is still time for McVey to make his mark for the Buckeyes. FORECAST: Needs to be healthy in 2011, and open some eyes by impressing on special teams.
Conner Crowell: Will need to add size and strength, and should be an automatic red-shirt for 2011. FORECAST: Unless he shows something early in the fall, there is little chance of Crowell playing as a true freshman next year.
Ryan Shazier: Since he is coming in early, and is the only legitimate pass-rusher of the linebackers, it's reasonable to assume we will see Shazier in a limited role in 2011. He should be an excellent special teams player, and should be able to contribute as a third-down blitzer. FORECAST: If he can learn the defense, he gets situational playing time next year.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Ejuan Price and Curtis Grant are both being recruited by Ohio State, and the Buckeyes have a reasonable shot at both players. FORECAST: Hard to imagine either player contributing in 2011, but Grant would seem the likely candidate of the two to be on the field, in a limited role.
Next year could be the year Ohio State returns to a more traditional lineup of putting three linebackers on the field at all times, possibly pulling one for another defensive back in obvious passing downs. Look for Sabino, Sweat and Moeller to see the most playing time, with some talented backups on their tails.