Inside Fall Camp: Def. Practice Observations

Several youngsters turned some heads Thursday when media were allowed to watch Ohio State take to the practice field. A talented freshman class made its mark in particular.

Ohio State entered fall camp needing to replace six starters on defense. That seems to have been accomplished, but the competition has not come to a close thanks to the emergence of several first-year players.

Leo Options Anything But "Weak": Nathan Williams' continued absence could become a concern eventually, but there is still a lot to like about this group. With him out, John Simon slid to the weak side with Adam Bellamy initially replacing him in the No. 1 group. With that lineup in the game, they showed more of a "traditional" 4-3 as opposed to the 4-3 "Under" they usually run because Simon played with his hand on the ground and did not drop into coverage (a la Williams or predecessors Thaddeus Gibson and Vernon Gholston) while "Sam" linebacker Etienne Sabino played off the line of scrimmage instead of over the tight end.

The coaches also used the 4-3 Under look when they gave redshirt freshman J.T. Moore some looks at the standup weak side (Leo) position, and he was very impressive. At one point, he beat tackles Andrew Norwell and J.B. Shugarts on consecutive plays. Moore figures to play a big role even after Williams returns.

Depth galore: Staying with the defensive line, what appeared to be a deep group in the spring looks even better with the addition of true freshman Michael Bennett. The four-star recruit had moved up to the second team last time a practice was open to the media, and he saw some first-team reps Thursday. Bellamy has been impressive since last season, but Bennett could give him all he wants to keep his spot as the first lineman off the bench for coach Jim Heacock, who likes to play eight guys anyway.

Joel Hale, another freshman, and surprising senior Evan Blankenship filled out the No. 2 line today with freshman Steve Miller backup up Moore at Leo.

Freshman help: First-year players are fighting for spots in the two-deep in the back seven as well. Ryan Shazier looks entrenched in one backup linebacker spot while classmate Doran Grant saw a few reps with both the No. 1 and 2 units at cornerback. Grant was beaten for a touchdown pass of about 15 yards on a pretty throw from Joe Bauserman to T.Y. Williams in the corner of the end zone, but he did not back down at any point. He's a good athlete with quick reactions, but he is a bit on the short side.

Bryant Bringing it: Tyler Moeller might be the most important player on the Ohio State defense this fall thanks to his playmaking instincts and his veteran leadership skills, but there is a lot to like about his backup at the Star position. Moeller has been nursing a minor leg injury the past few days, giving Christian Bryant the chance to step in and turn heads. He stands only about 5-9, but Bryant is a big hitter with a nose for the ball. He can cover ground, too, as he showed when he ranged from the hashmark to his left to break up a short out pass intended for Williams during red zone work. Bryant is still running with the No. 2 unit at safety, too, as C.J. Barnett has shown no ill effects from knee surgery that ended his 2010 season and Orhian Johnson appears to be playing faster and more instinctually, but the youngster from Cleveland Glenville figures to have an impact sooner or later one way or another.

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