Luke Fickell's charges return 25 letterwinners on the defensive side of the football and eight players who started at least one game last season. Thus, a lack of experienced players should not be a problem for the Silver Bullets defense.
What the Buckeyes are looking for now are players who will be playmakers this fall.
Big plays have been a hallmark of Ohio State's defense. In 2010, the Buckeyes created 30 turnovers, tied for 12th best in the nation and tops in the Big Ten. That helped Ohio State rank fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of 262.3 yards per game, and fifth in the country in scoring defense (14.3 points per game). The Buckeyes led the conference in those categories, as well as in rushing defense (96.7 points per game) and pass efficiency defense (a rating of 98.6).
Ohio State's defense rarely rested, and the elder statesman of the group – sixth-year senior Tyler Moeller – does not expect a letdown this season.
"I see a great defense, a bunch of playmakers," Moeller said of his defensive mates. "We have guys that want to go out there and make a difference."
If the Ohio State defense is to feature what Moeller calls playmakers this fall, part of the credit goes to the adversity the defense overcame last season. Moeller was one of several members of Ohio State's secondary to go down with an injury last fall. The Buckeyes' star/nickleback tore his pectoral muscle at Illinois and missed the last eight games. Safety C.J. Barnett suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second game of the season and fellow safety/nickleback Christian Bryant missed six games with an infection in his foot and a subsequent surgery. Reserve cornerback Corey Brown (now a safety) also missed the last five games of the season after suffering a knee injury against Purdue, and senior cornerback Chimdi Chekwa missed most of the Sugar Bowl with a wrist injury.
Fortunately for Ohio State, others stepped up and filled those holes. For example, safety Orhian Johnson emerged in place of Barnett and recorded 50 tackles, most among 2011 returnees, with an interception and two forced fumbles . Dominic Clarke – once the fifth cornerback on Ohio State's depth chart – stepped in for Chekwa and helped the Buckeyes win the Sugar Bowl.
Johnson and Barnett have been Ohio State's first-team safeties in the first handful of preseason practices, while Bryant has run with the second team safeties and has seen time at star behind Moeller. Clarke is in a battle with Bradley Roby for the right to join Travis Howard as Ohio State's starting cornerbacks.
Safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Paul Haynes said having plenty of returning players who saw the field last year is going to be a plus this fall.
"I think for those guys that had to go in (because of injuries) … it gave them confidence to say, ‘I can do it,' " Haynes said. "So now you saw it carry over a little bit in the spring and it just gives you good depth. When you get out there and you get in the fire it gives you a little bit of confidence."
"It's good to have the competition because it's making everyone better," he added. "We've got guys that are backup guys that can challenge the guys who are playing. So everyone is getting better every day."
The defense has already shown an ability to come up with big plays during the first few practices of fall camp. Barnett and reserve safety Zach Domicone returned interceptions for touchdowns during the first practice on Monday, and Johnson added another pick the next day.
Bryant stripped the ball from running back Carlos Hyde on Thursday and returned it for a score. That play helped Bryant stay atop a list mentioned by Moeller after Thursday's practice.
"He's one of the guys that I talk about being a playmaker," Moeller said of Bryant. "We have a chart of ‘mad' plays: interceptions, fumble recoveries and forced fumbles. He's leading it right now."