Playing The 'Star'

Anderson Russell is a star but James Laurinaitis is not -- at least, that is how Ohio State's defense is set up. Find out what the "star position" is, who plays there and why it is so important to the Buckeyes.

Troy Smith was not a "star." Same goes for Ted Ginn Jr., A.J. Hawk or Mike Nugent.

The term "star" player has a slightly different meaning at Ohio State than it might at other schools.

Rather than simply denoting the players who most frequently find themselves showcased on highlight films, OSU's "star position" denotes a specific defensive player. When the Buckeyes drop into nickel coverage, the star is a fancy term for the nickel back – the extra defensive back brought in to face offenses with multiple wide receivers.

Following the Buckeyes' terminology, they primarily have one star this season – sophomore safety Anderson Russell.

"That's a position where we look at our best player," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "We had Mike Doss there. Donte Whitner was there and now we're putting Anderson there. That's a position that we bring on pressures. He's got a chance to be around the football an awful lot, so we want to put a playmaker there."

In most circumstances, when the Buckeyes go into their nickel defense the strongside linebacker will come out of the game. In his place, redshirt freshman cornerback Chimdi Chekwa enters the game and first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Malcolm Jenkins moves to safety.

Sound confusing? According to cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson, that rotation is still a work in progress.

One person it appears to leave out is junior strong safety Jamario O'Neal, who started the final eight games of the season at free safety after Russell suffered a season-ending ACL injury in week five against Iowa.

"We may do some different things in terms of moving, getting Chim into the game, moving some different guys around but I would say Jamario O'Neal is definitely going to play for us," Johnson said. "There's no doubt about that."

The thought of moving Jenkins is a bit of a surprise after he emerged last season as one of the nation's top lockdown cornerbacks. The junior has said that he and Russell are basically co-stars, having spent equal time practicing in the position.

When O'Neal enters the picture, things shift around again. In that case, Russell remains the star while O'Neal takes the safety spot and Jenkins remains at cornerback.

According to Jenkins, whether O'Neal or Chekwa comes hinges on a battle between the two to see who is the better overall defensive back.

The strides Chekwa, a 6-1, 180-pound athlete, has made since spring ball have forced his name into the competition, Johnson said.

"I think Chim, his top-end speed makes him definitely the third guy that's going to play," the coach said. "He's going to play a lot of football for us. He's another young man you guys have heard a lot about from the spring that we're expecting some big things out of."

Also in the mix behind Chekwa and O'Neal is junior Shaun Lane, Jenkins said.

There is a risk that comes with moving Jenkins to safety, however. Johnson said there is some concern with taking him out of his natural position, but the fact that the move will not be a drastic one should make it less of a struggle.

"We're kind of toying with it because he's a really good athlete and he's got really good ball skills, but he's never played that spot before," Johnson said. "You don't want to mess with a guy when he's a really good corner for you and move him back to a position he hasn't played."

However it works out, opposing offenses now have another thing to worry about when they line up against the Buckeyes. That fact in itself might be the biggest star in the equation.

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