Changes Aplenty Early for Ohio State Defense

Not much is the same this year for Ohio State defensively, which is probably a good thing considering how the Buckeyes finished 2013.

If there was any doubt Ohio State's defense will have a new look this season, it was removed at the start of preseason camp.

The Buckeyes lined up with many new faces and a palpable new attitude with a long time to go before final plans are set for the regular season.

It was not just about defensive backs getting after receivers and linebackers chasing backs and receivers in coverage but who was doing it as veterans and freshmen flowed in and out of the lineup so fast keeping up with who was on the field at any given time was nearly impossible.

Afterward, Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell did not seem bothered by the fluctuations.

He called field corner probably the most noteworthy competition while acknowledging there are also battles for playing time at Sam and Mike linebacker with competition fierce up front for playing time in what coach Larry Johnson intends to be a large rotation.

Another spot there is a position battle this preseason that would not otherwise exist if not for an off-the-field issue is right end, where Noah Spence is suspended for the first two games as a result of violating the Big Ten's substance abuse policy.

"Steve Miller, Rashad Frazier, there's a bunch of different guys who are going to battle for that spot to play there," Fickell said. "Obviously Steve Miller being a senior has done everything we've ever asked him to do and Rashad Frazier being a senior as well and it's not only -- it's a travesty that Noah's going to miss, but it gives some other guys some light. It's going to make us and force us to create some depth and get some guys some very big roles."

With returning starter Doran Grant sliding to the boundary corner, an open competition on the field side consists of redshirt freshmen Eli Apple and Gareon Conley and junior Armani Reeves, though true freshman Damon Webb made a cameo during scrimmage time as well.

The veteran Reeves is likely headed for nickel back when the Buckeyes opt for a five-DB look, and he looked good in the open practice Wednesday while Conley was burned for a deep touchdown pass from J.T. Barrett to senior Devin Smith. Listed 5-10, 198, Reeves said in the spring he enjoys the new, more aggressive approach in the secondary, and that has shown early in the fall.

Finding a second corner figures to be key, as does filling in the two new spots at safety where Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Cam Burrows and Ron Tanner took turns Wednesday night, but Fickell stressed the secondary alone cannot be counted on to improve a defense that gave up more passing yards per game last season than any Ohio State defense but one.

"Th whole thing is it's a tied all together," Fickell said. "People talk about the pass defense and this that and the other but the reality is it's not on the secondary, it's on the linebacker in coverage and the pass rush. Those things all work together and you've got a chance to be successful.

"This is the greatest sport known to man because it's a team sport. You can have 10 great ones out there and if you've got one bad one, somebody's gonna find him."

While stressing it is early in the preseason, the veteran coach confirmed he has seen some carryover from the spring, when the defense underwent a significant makeover with the arrival of Johnson and new secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, who has installed a Cover 4 scheme.

"We've been out there for two days, but there's a carryover from a lot of things," Fickell said. "The great thing about it is not only have the kids had to change and bow our backs. It's not always easy and it's not always the most comfortable thing, but to be honest with you, there are things Coach Johnson has brought that are going to be real successful and help us defensively out and there are a lot of things (cornerbacks coach Kerry) Coombs has spoken up and battled through with all of us through the last four or five months and really help us, so I really like where we are."

At linebacker, Josh Perry returns after starting 10 games last year, but the 250-pound junior has flipped to the Will spot after manning the Sam last year. The latter spot has a new look this season with the lighter Darron Lee (225) and Chris Worley (218) playing a walk-out position against spread offenses instead of being limited to over the tight end against pro-style or power Os. Lee is in the lead now, but Fickell said not to count out fellow youngster Worley. Ditto inside, where senior Curtis Grant will have to hold off a challenge from true freshman Raekwon McMillan.

(Read more on the linebacker picture here.)

"Those guys are going to be able to roll," Fickell said. "You can't count out Chris Worley. Raekwon McMillan has done a great job, too. Those are the guys we'd go with right now, those are the guys who would be out there, but I promise you they're pulling for those guys behind them, too, and we're gonna have some depth that we haven't had in the last few years."

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