Defensive Line: Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, Steve Miller
The first three, barring injury, are locks to begin the season on the field against Navy for Ohio State. All are first-team All-Big Ten candidates, while Bennett and Bosa are already hearing their names called when it comes to All-America and postseason award status. Of course, Noah Spence is the fourth returning starter but must miss the first two games after his ecstasy-related suspension. Jamal Marcus would have been the obvious choice after his Orange Bowl showing but is no longer with the team, leaving Miller and Tyquan Lewis as the top two choices. I really like what Lewis brings to the table as an edge rusher and he had a great spring, but I like the senior, Miller, to start. While he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype his recruiting ranking included, Miller has had some good moments in scarlet and gray and will likely get the nod to begin game one against Navy’s rush attack. Rashad Frazier will also be in the mix at DE and Tommy Schutt and Michael Hill are more than capable backups at tackle who should see time.
Defensive Line: Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, Tyquan Lewis
Arguably its best player is currently suspended after testing positive for ecstasy, a key backup transferred to Akron and a redshirt freshman started a riot at the Grown & Sexy Lounge, but the Ohio State defensive line will still be a force to be reckoned in the season opener. Washington, Bennett and Bosa earned their spots last year, and Noah Spence will get his back when he’s done serving his suspension. Against Navy, though, the four returning starters will be one short. I’m picking Tyquan Lewis to get the start, but I won’t be surprised if it’s Steve Miller instead.
Linebacker: Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee
I’m going with chalk on this one, especially as you figure the Buckeyes will begin the season with a three-linebacker set as it faces the challenge of stopping Navy’s rush-based attack. Perry is a lock after gaining experience a year ago, and I think he could be in line for a breakout. Grant played good football, especially when it came to stopping the run, a year ago before injuries mounted, and I think he will hold off a charge from Raekwon McMillan to start in the middle. The third spot seemed to be locked down by Lee during the spring as he looks like a potentially disruptive playmaker to go into the walk-out spot. I think McMillan backs up Grant, Chris Worley goes behind Lee and Perry is followed by Trey Johnson in the lineup, though Dante Booker could push there.
Linebacker: Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee
I said on our Ask The Insiders board yesterday that if I were picking who starts against Michigan instead of who starts against Navy, my choices might look slightly different. That’s the case here. I think Perry and Lee have what it takes to put together a breakout season, but I’m not sold on Grant being able to go the distance at middle linebacker and hold off the talented true freshman Raekwon McMillan. Still, the coaching staff hasn’t actually seen how McMillan performs in a game that counts, and I’m betting they side with the “devil you know” approach for the time being.
Defensive Back: Doran Grant, Armani Reeves, Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell
I’ll start at corner, where Grant is assured of a second year as a starter if he stays healthy. He seemed ready for a breakout year in the fall, and I’m excited to see what the Akron native can do in his final campaign. On the other side, I know there’s been a big push by redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, but Reeves is a guy who received praise in the spring for his adoption of the new techniques needed to play corner at OSU and he has an experience edge, so I think he goes in game one, at least. Conley and Apple will see playing time, though. Safety seems pretty clear-cut to me even though I really like my No. 3 guy, Cameron Burrows. I think Bell will move into the lineup as a sophomore given his athletic ability and playmaking skills, and I was very impressed by Powell’s downhill instincts in the Orange Bowl – in the end, I think safety is a perfect spot for him. Burrows will be the No. 3 guy and Ron Tanner will complete the depth chart as an important veteran at the spot.
Defensive Back: Doran Grant, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell
As you can see with three linebackers listed above, I avoided getting cute and listing a nickel or dime package as the starting defensive lineup against a team that may not throw five passes all game. That leaves the traditional four spots in the secondary, and three of the above players – Grant, Powell and Bell – seem like solid bets to win the starting jobs, especially Grant. I’m rolling the dice on the fourth one. The press coverage being played under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash fits Apple perfectly. During spring practice, Grant referred to Apple as a “bully” when it came to defending receivers, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs hinted that an undisclosed illness that is now under control is what kept Apple from making an impact his true freshman season. He had an impressive spring and a big spring game, and now he has a month to go out and win the starting job. I like his odds. Two other names to watch for are Armani Reeves, whom Coombs described as the hardest worker on the team, and Gareon Conley.