That's what happened to Ohio State safety Christian Bryant, who broke his left ankle in the final minutes of the Buckeyes' 31-24 win Saturday night vs. Wisconsin. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was emotional after the game talking about Bryant. Two days later, the task of finding Bryant's on-field replacement took center stage.
"The sign of a good team is the ability to move on and have someone step up in his place," Meyer said Monday at his weekly press luncheon at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
The task won't be an easy one. Meyer again raved about Bryant's efforts with the Buckeyes.
"The issue is going to be not just as a player but who he is," Meyer said. "One of the greatest things you get to do as a coach is watch a young guy turn into a man. I can't say enough good things about Christian Bryant and what he means. I'm hoping we can bring him with us to Northwestern. He's an extremely valuable member of this team."
Meyer mentioned two main candidates to replace Bryant in the starting lineup – fifth-year senior Corey Brown and redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell. Brown is the most experienced and was already listed as a backup safety. Powell has seen playing time this year as OSU's nickelback. Meyer added that freshman Vonn Bell, Powell's backup at nickelback, "is also in the mix" to see more playing time to move up in the depth chart. If Powell moves to safety, that creates a hole at nickel. If Brown gets the spot, it creates a spot in the dime package.
"Once you replace (Bryant), then you've got nickel and dime issues," Meyer said. "(Brown, Powell and Bell) are the ones that, as we speak, we're having conversations about."
Ohio State cornerbacks coach represented OSU's defensive assistants after Meyer and indicated that – for now – Brown would be the first option.
"I think, as we sit here this afternoon, Pitt Brown will go in there and play," Coombs said. "I don't know exactly the configuration of how all those guys are going to fit going into the week. Some of that will be developed and discussed during practice."
No matter what the outcome, Meyer characterized the situation as complicated but one that is easier to deal with this season than it would have been last year because of his trust in his coaching staff and players. For Coombs, having Brown be the man to step into a starting role is not a concern because of what the Monroeville, Pa., native brings to the table.
"I think the exciting thing about Pitt Brown is he's an extremely versatile player," Coombs said. "You can plug him in at a lot of roles, whether it be nickel last year, dime this year. He's always consistent as a safety in practice. We use him all over in special teams.
"Pitt's versatility is a big key to his and our success. I'm looking forward to him getting out there and playing."
While the trio of candidates to see more playing time in Bryant's stead is known, the affect that Bryant's absence will have off the field is not. Recognized by coaches and teammates as a player with excellent intangibles, Bryant's leadership will also have to be replaced.
"He's a guy that has no hesitancy in standing in front of the team and addressing them, addressing the defense," Coombs said. "There's only a handful of guys that are able to do that with credibility in any locker room. He's one of them. I don't expect that he will not continue to play that role, to be honest.
"This team is still in large part Christian Bryant's team. He's going to show up. He cares passionately about the Buckeyes. At the same time, there's going to have to be players who step in and fill that void, not just from the vocal standpoint but also from their style of player. He's a hustler. He's an intense, aggressive player. It will fall upon others to fill that void."
The void is not just one the coaching staff knows will need to be addressed.
"I wish you guys could hear some of the speeches he gives us in the locker room," junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "He's a huge leader on the field, and he's a huge leader off the field. It's a hard loss, but it's Ohio State. We've got guys that will step up and fill that role.
"Hopefully he'll still try to be around as much as he can and keep leading just with his presence. Christian's just a great guy."