Ohio State Spring Gradebook: Defense

The defense lost two of the three extended Saturday scrimmages during the spring, but its members were not discouraged. Despite the loss of five All-Big Ten starters, there is no lack of talent on that side of the ball for the Scarlet and Gray. Still, there will be more to do in August.

Great defensive units are sometimes taken for granted at Ohio State, but anyone needing a reminder that defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and co-coordinator Luke Fickell had a lot of work to do this spring needs only to check out the results of the recently completed NFL draft.

Five Buckeyes were drafted, all from the defensive side of the ball and all first-team All-Big Ten performers in 2010.

Here are Buckeye Sports Bulletin's spring grades for the Ohio State defensive units, listed from highest to lowest.

Defensive Line: A-

Despite counting only three seniors among its top 11 players, the defensive line looks deep and disruptive.

Senior Nathan Williams' impact was no surprise at Leo, and his likely backup while senior Solomon Thomas is suspended, redshirt freshman J.T. Moore, looked solid in his first spring of college ball.

Junior Garrett Goebel plugged up the middle all spring, and senior Evan Blankenship surprisingly made a handful of plays as he bids for a backup role at nose guard.

We already knew John Simon was capable of playing inside and out, but Johnathan Hankins' ability to man both the 3-technique and 5-technique was something of a revelation.

Behind that pair, Adam Bellamy, Melvin Fellows, Darryl Baldwin and Joel Hale all had flashes that indicate they can help when needed this fall.

Secondary: B

We saw lots of reasons for cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson to be happy while we can understand if Paul Haynes was a bit frustrated with the spring his safeties group turned in. The overall grade for the secondary reflects the simultaneous success and struggles of the two groups.

Johnson hasn't needed to find a new starting cornerback since early 2009, but he might have come out of this spring with four. Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke were at the top of the totem pole throughout the month of spring drills, but we could scarcely detect a drop off when Bradley Roby or Dionte Allen took the field.

Safety was another story, though, as health continued to be a concern despite the plethora of scholarship players in Haynes' room.

Tyler Moeller, C.J. Barnett and Corey Brown all saw little or no action as they continued to heal from surgeries, and Christian Bryant, Zach Domicone and Nate Oliver all missed time with dings picked up through the course of the spring.

Returning starter Orhian Johnson logged a full spring's worth of reps and cut down on some of the mistakes he made last season, but doubts remain about his becoming a playmaker on par with the likes of Kurt Coleman or Jermale Hines.

The upshot of the injuries is true freshmen Jeremy Cash and Ron Tanner picked up valuable reps while their older counterparts sat.

Cash, in particular, was a standout late in the month, including a spring game performance of six tackles, including a sack.

Linebacker: B-

The elders, Andrew Sweat and Etienne Sabino, both looked ready to carry on the rich Ohio State linebacker tradition. Sweat is a better fit on the weak side and Sabino looked comfortable in the middle.

Question marks abound with the rest of the group, and who will play Sam linebacker seems unknown at this point.

Storm Klein was thought to be in line for a boost in playing time this year, but a hamstring problem limited him for much of spring, so he will have to wait until August to impress the coaching staff.

Dorian Bell was one of the spring's top performers, but the news this week that he is suspended for the season essentially wipes away his good work of April.

Jordan Whiting stepped up, too, but he is suspended for the season opener, so his impact will be delayed.

Jonathan Newsome's recurring trips to head coach Jim Tressel's doghouse prevented him from making much of an impact, and true freshman Ryan Shazier's health limited his ability to take advantage of the reps available (although his future looks bright).

On the plus side, Chad Hagan stepped up to provide an intriguing new option as both a Sam linebacker in the base defense and a Star in the nickel.

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