Linebackers make the most tackles. Last time I checked, the ultimate defensive fundamental is tackling people. On top of that, I've never seen a championship football team that didn't have excellent middle linebacker play…never. In addition, whether it is a big mistake or a tiny mistake in the defensive backfield, a mistake often results in a touchdown…not just a 6-yard gain. Coverage (and run support) for those defensive backs is critical.
With all that said though, it all starts with the defensive line.
If you give a D-I college quarterback and receiver enough time, they will complete pass after pass after pass against an NFL secondary. If you give a D-I college running back a downhill lane with a gaping hole and a two-way-go (he can slash left, slash right, or over the top) on a linebacker, the running back will win that battle the large majority of the time. I have seen many average linebackers look awfully good when the defensive line bounces the ball carrier east and west. I have seen many defensive backs intercept passes and shut down world-class receivers because the defensive line has the quarterback throwing off his back foot.
OSU's young linebackers and defensive backs will depend on the defensive line. "Win in the trenches" is a slogan that holds true for the offense AND the defense. Nobody will shine brighter than Quinn Pitcock. He should be a man amongst boys. His size, athleticism, and confidence will make him at the very least first team All-Big Ten. David Patterson should bring energy to the group. Jay Richardson and Vernon Gholston will be a pleasure to watch, but I think Lawrence Wilson will be the "best newcomer" for the Buckeye defense in 2006. Wilson is gifted.
It isn't really about these guys looking good. If the linebackers and defensive backs look good, we know the defensive line did what they needed to do.