OSU Defense Will Have Different Look in 2013

With only one member of the front seven set to return next season, the Ohio State defense will have a new look to it for sure. The size of the rebuilding project is greater than that of any in the past 20 years, but there are plenty of reinforcements on campus and on the way.

Coaches Mike Vrabel and Luke Fickell have an unenviable task in rebuilding the Ohio State defensive front seven for 2013, but they could certainly be worse off.

Yes, the team will miss the contributions of linemen Johnny Simon, Nathan Williams, Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel along with linebackers Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren, but the cupboard should not be bare.

In linebacker Ryan Shazier, they have quite a piece to build around, too. The lone returning starter in the front seven had a team-high 115 tackles last season as a sophomore. Seventeen of those stops – including five sacks – came in the backfield, and he broke up 11 passes while intercepting another that he returned for a touchdown against Penn State.

Shazier also forced three fumbles en route to being named to the media's All-Big Ten first team.

Barring a surprise junior college transfer, he will be surrounded by youngsters when practice starts in the spring, however.

Curtis Grant, a five-star recruit who is yet to earn a regular starting role, will be the only other junior while everyone else coming back will be a sophomore: Joshua Perry, Jamal Marcus, Conner Crowell, David Perkins, Camren Williams and Luke Roberts.

Marcus led that group with eight tackles while Perkins had six and Perry added five.

FoxSportsNext recruiting analysts were most fond of Williams, Perkins and Perry, all of whom were four-star prospects coming out of high school last year.

Fickell, the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, also hopes to add one or more freshmen to the group, but he is still waiting for a final decision from a group of high school seniors that includes Mike Mitchell, Trey Johnson and Christopher Worley.

As for the defensive line, Vrabel faces a unique task in his second year as defensive line coach at his alma mater. Never in the 21 seasons since the Buckeyes moved to a 4-3 defense have all four starters on the line had to be replaced at one time, but that will be the case for 2013 thanks to Hankins' decision to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft.

Fortunately for Vrabel, he can turn to a group that comes highly regarded in recruiting circles and includes several members who earned significant playing time last season as reserves.

Michael Bennett was expected to be a starter in 2012, but a lingering groin injury hampered his availability off and on throughout the year. He still managed to notch 11 tackles in eight games while recovering and forcing a fumble.

Back as a junior in 2013, Bennett is likely to be joined by a trio of sophomores who were five-star recruits in the class of 2012 – end Noah Spence and tackles Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt.

Fighting those four for playing time will be ends Steve Miller, J.T. Moore and Se'Von Pittman along with tackles Joel Hale and Chris Carter.

Reinforcements are on the way, too, in the form of a recruiting class that already includes six members – four-star tackles Michael Hill, Billy Price and Donovan Munger along with ends Joey Bosa (five-star), Tyquan Lewis (four-star) and Tracy Sprinkle (three-star).

In total, the front seven should be talented but it will be young.

None of the 22 players expected to be on hand for next season (including the current verbal commitments) will be seniors, and only six will be juniors.

Six are five-star prospects and another 10 earned four stars on the recruiting trail.

According to BSB research, 2013 will be the first time Ohio State puts a defensive front seven with six new faces on the field since 1989.

In '89 the new starters were linebackers Tom Lease, Judah Herman, Alonzo Spellman and Derek Isaman along with linemen Rich Frimel and Pat Thomas. The lone holdover from the '88 front seven was Srecko Zizakovic, who moved to end in '89 after starting at outside linebacker in '88.

Ohio State had five new starters in the front seven in 1992, '97, 2004 and 2006.

The departing players accounted for 37 of Ohio State's 64 tackles for loss and 16 of the team's 30 sacks in 2012.

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