After wrapping the offensive depth chart projections yesterday, I'm taking a stab at projecting what Ohio State's defensive depth chart will look like this spring.
Just as with the offensive depth chart, this is a best guess of how the Buckeyes might be lining up by the end of spring practice, meaning any players not currently on campus will not be included.
Defensive End 1
Starter: Tyquan Lewis
Backups (in order): Jalyn Holmes, Rashod Berry, Darius Slade
Thoughts: Lewis was the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year last season and he's a senior team captain, so he's a shoe-in to start. Holmes, once again, will play starter reps off the bench for the Buckeyes, who will rotate quite a bit at defensive end. Berry showed some flashes of his freakish athleticism last year, but he'll be buried on the depth chart a bit. Slade could end up ahead of Berry, but it's hard to project how he'll look after missing all of 2016 due to an injury.
Defensive End 2
Starter: Sam Hubbard
Backups (in order): Nick Bosa, Jonathon Cooper
Thoughts: Hubbard will probably be the "starter" once again, but it would be silly to think that anyone will keep Bosa off the field this season. Both will play a ton and they'll be on the field together – along with Holmes and Lewis – as part of the Rushmen package on a regular basis. Cooper, now a sophomore like Bosa, is extremely talented and could crack the rotation with a big spring showing.
Defensive Tackle 1
Starter: Mike Hill
Backups (in order): Robert Landers
Thoughts: Hill quietly had a great season as Ohio State's nose tackle last year, so there's no reason to see his status changing. Landers impressed last season as well and will be in the rotation along Ohio State's defensive line.
Defensive Tackle 2
Starter: Dre'Mont Jones
Backups (in order): Davon Hamilton, Tracy Sprinkle
Thoughts: Sprinkle won this job last season, but Jones took over after the former suffered a season-ending injury in week one and never looked back. Jones could end up as a household name by the end of 2017, so it's hard to see Sprinkle overtaking him as the starter at any point in time. Hamilton impressed at times as well and is a really athletic guy for his size, so he'll figure into the rotation once again. Sprinkle could easily end up ahead of Hamilton on the depth chart, but, again, it's hard to know how he'll come back once fully healthy.
Outside Linebacker 1
Starter: Jerome Baker
Backups (in order): Keandre Jones, Malik Harrison
Thoughts: Baker had a stellar season and could be Ohio State's best linebacker this year, so no change is coming. Jones and Harrison are both great athletes while Jones is probably the more natural linebacker. He'll be groomed to replace Baker should the starter choose to go pro after this season.
Starter: Chris Worley
Backups (in order): Justin Hilliard
Thoughts: There was a lot of guesswork in regards to this position leading up to spring camp, but it looks like Worley will be getting the first crack, and I'm pretty convinced that he'll end up as the starter. Hilliard is a really talented player who could end up in this position in 2018, but he's had some injury issues early in his career.
Outside Linebacker 2
Starter: Dante Booker
Backups (in order): Baron Browning
Thoughts: Considering Booker won a starting spot over Baker last season before taking a redshirt after being injured against Bowling Green, he's definitely in the driver's seat to start here once again. Browning is an early enrollee who is physically advanced for his age and has a ton of talent, so he could be a factor on special teams and as a reserve linebacker this year.
Starter: Erick Smith
Backups (in order): Jordan Fuller
Thoughts: Smith will get the first crack here, but Greg Schiano hinted that there could be rotation at safety as well as cornerback in 2017. Fuller is going to have a shot to win the job but either way, both players should be seeing the field.
Starter: Damon Webb
Backups (in order): Jahsen Wint, Wayne Davis
Thoughts: Webb is the only returning starter in Ohio State's secondary, and he'll keep his spot this season. Behind him are a couple of redshirt freshmen who could have a chance to prove themselves this spring, but most of the safety reps are probably going to go to Webb, Smith and Fuller.
Starter: Denzel Ward
Backups (in order): Damon Arnette
Thoughts: Ward is going to be the No. 1 guy here and he's the only one with much experience. Arnette was OK as the nickel corner at times last year, but he'll certainly be looking to make a jump in 2017.
Starter: Kendall Sheffield
Backups (NOT in order): Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade
Thoughts: Sheffield is more experienced after redshirting at Alabama and playing for Blinn College last season, but Okudah and Wade both have a ton of talent. All three of these early enrollees are likely to see the field this season, and any of them could end up as starters (maybe even at safety?).
Starter: Drue Chrisman
Thoughts: Chrisman redshirted last year and he'll in all likelihood be the guy to replace Cameron Johnston in 2017.
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