Five of six players from the BCS National Championship game two-deep will return, and injured veterans Ross Homan and Curtis Terry will join the mix, so competition figures to be fierce, but it is not as if Tyler Moeller does not have experience drawing notice amid talented players.
Despite playing on a loaded high school team at Cincinnati Colerain, Moeller was hard to miss while chasing down ball carriers and harassing quarterbacks.
Though slight of stature at 6-1 and about 200 pounds, Moeller recorded 29 tackles for loss – including 15.5 sacks – for the Cardinals and was named the state defensive player of the year in Division I as a senior in 2005. As a junior, Moeller had 8.5 sacks and an interception as the Cardinals rolled to a perfect 15-0 season. Four of his sacks came in the postseason, including one in the state final as Colerain crushed Canton McKinley to take home the state championship.
He flashed enough skills to earn a four-star rating from Scout, but entered college without exactly having a position. Part linebacker, part stand-up defensive end, Moeller's main duty as a Cardinal was rushing the passer.
Moeller gained about 20 pounds prior to enrolling at Ohio State in the summer of 2006 and earned frequent mention from coaches and players alike for his ability to make plays from the linebacker position during preseason camp, but the coaching staff opted to redshirt him anyway.
The following year brought a curveball as he moved to safety, a switch that required him to drop much of the weight he had gained, try to learn pass coverages and increase speed, which was a reported 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash when he was a high schooler.
"We compare him a little bit with Anderson Russell, in the sense that he's around the ball, he's running fast, he's running hard," linebackers coach Luke Fickell said during spring ball. "He's just trying to figure out what he's doing during the game. There's a fine line between being fast and out of control. That's what I stress to these guys: be under control first, and speed will come. They all can run. They all can do those things – that's why we recruit them, that's why they're here. But you've got to be under control first.
"Linebacker's a different position for him really because he lined up on the line of scrimmage and blitzed on every play."
Last fall, Moeller moved back to linebacker and made his collegiate debut as a special teamer, playing in 12 games with eight tackles, but saw little time at all on defense.
"I think I had an all right year," he said in New Orleans as the Buckeyes prepared for the national championship game. "I could have done better at things."
He sounded happy about his return to linebacker despite the looming competition.
"We'll see what happens," he said. "I know Curtis Terry is redshirting. In a place like this, you have to wait for your time. So we'll see what happens."
Speaking on the same Super Dome floor as Moeller, Fickell said the issue with Moeller is not talent but rather a matter of figuring out the role that is best for him.
"We're always trying to find out how to get the best 11 guys on the field," Fickell said. "That has to do with what is the best fit for the kid as well as the best fit for the defense. There's not a whole lot of difference of where he was playing as a safety as with where he's playing linebacker, but the better opportunities to get on the field now are there and he gives us some depth.
"We still play within a scheme, but we try to find a way to get him on the field. We made some specific things up that we thought maybe would fit him best and we'll continue to do that."
In New Orleans, Moeller was reluctant to reveal what he was weighing, but he said he was optimistic he can bulk up again.
"I've got all offseason next year and I'll actually be training to be a linebacker so I'll be able to gain that weight, hopefully," he said.