New OSU Secondary Set to Debut in Orange Bowl

After nearly a month off, Ohio State will return to the field Friday with a new-look secondary that is the result of injuries and lack of production. It figures to get a big challenge from Clemson.

Ohio State is set to debut its new-look secondary Friday night in the Orange Bowl, though the opponent is probably not ideal for breaking in a new group.

And concerns about the talent of the skill players for Clemson aside, excitement for a secondary including five-star freshman Vonn Bell has been dampened by the realization cornerback Bradley Roby is unlikely to play because of a knee injury.

Roby, an All-Big Ten performer who is going to enter the 2014 NFL Draft, was hurt Dec. 7 in the Big Ten Championship Game, and head coach Urban Meyer said his recovery has gone slower than expected.

In his place, sophomore Armani Reeves is expected to get the start opposite Doran Grant, a junior who turned in a solid first season as a starter at field corner for the Buckeyes.

Reeves, a four-star recruit from Massachusetts, started the opening game of the season while Roby was suspended. He also started week two against San Diego State and has 22 tackles and an interception this season.

"I think he's been pretty solid," Grant said this week. "He came in and done his job when he's had to come in. I think he's been practicing pretty well all bowl practice getting ready for Friday. I think he'll have a pretty good game on Friday."

The other shakeups in the secondary are a result of performance as opposed to health. Redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell is set to start at safety in place of senior Corey "Pitt" Brown, who struggled in eight games after senior captain Christian Bryant was lost for the season to an ankle injury.

Powell began his Ohio State career at cornerback and spent this season as the Buckeyes' nickel back (a.k.a. Star). His move makes way for five-star true freshman Vonn Bell to enter the regular lineup at Star as Ohio State expects to spend most of the game in its nickel defense against Clemson's spread offense.

Powell and Bell were among players Meyer named as having impressed during bowl practice, and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell agreed both have bright futures.

"Tyvis is playing a different spot," Fickell said. "He played the nickel most of the year, and now he's playing a free safety. So there's obviously some things that are different for him in some situations. I mean, he's been doing it. That's what hopefully the three weeks really gives us a chance to do, and the same thing for Vonn Bell."

Grant acknowledged Bell is in a tough spot having to step in against a team that had one of the best passing attacks in the country but expressed confidence he can get the job done.

"I like Vonn Bell," Grant said. "I'm confident in the young guy. He's going to be all right. He has a lot of confidence. He's going to be ready to play. He's a confident guy, period. It's going to be exciting to watch him play."

Confidence figures to be key because Clemson, with star quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins among its many weapons, figures to have some success before the night is through. Then it will be a matter of bouncing back to try to win the war even if a few battles are lost.

"Our pass defense has been a major issue at Ohio State, not near the standard we expect," Meyer said Thursday. "Whenever that happens, you look at personnel. You look at scheme. Both have been evaluated. And then at this time of year, it's just go work as hard as you can, and so we have Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell will be starting at positions they've never started before, so that's personnel (and) we've made some adjustments to scheme.

"And then we do what we do, and that's go out and work as hard as you possibly can. The issue is going to be the team you're playing, and they're very good at what they do. It's not just covering, but it's getting them on the ground because their skilled positions at Clemson are as good as anybody in America. I'm anticipating that our guys play very hard."

Twitter: @marcushartman

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