Most Valuable Defensive Player
Adam: DT Dexter Larimore
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Larimore, but he won't look the part. If you see James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman making lots of tackles and getting to the line of scrimmage, that means the tackles have done their job. This unit was the biggest defensive disappointment last season, but I've heard plenty of good things about Larimore's development and I'm looking for a big year out of him.
Jeff: LB James Laurinaitis
Just as I chose Chris Wells as my offensive MVP, I'll take the easy road and go with Laurinaitis for the top defensive honor. Simply put, he's the heart and soul of the defense, serving both as a master at his position and the face of a unit that was among the best in the country last year and should be again this season. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins comes in a close second.
Marcus: DE Cameron Heyward
This is a bit more difficult, but I'm going to go with Heyward. He'll never win it in a vote, but I think he might be the biggest difference-maker on the defense because the rest of the line will be good enough to keep the opposition from paying him too much extra attention while teams game plan against James Laurinaitis and avoid Malcolm Jenkins' side of the field. Heyward's skills and motor produce 10.5 tackles for loss last year, and experience should only make him better this season.
Defensive Surprise Player
Adam: LB Tyler Moeller
He's not going to be a starter and he's not going to lead the team in tackles, but Moeller is going to settle into a specialist role that will see him attack the ball carrier like a heat-seeking missile. He'll make a big play against USC that will have the nation wondering where he came from.
Jeff: DE Lawrence Wilson
I don't know if Wilson will surprise Ohio State fans with a big year, but his name isn't on the national radar at this point, so the big year he's going to have will be a surprise to some that haven't been paying attention. Seriously, the combination of Cameron Heyward and Wilson at defensive end should spell doom for opposing quarterbacks all season long.
Marcus: CB Andre Amos
Amos is a rangy athlete who had a lot to learn when he stepped on campus. His chance to step up last season was ruined by a knee injury, but a conversation with him over the winter gave me the impression he is ready to combine health, skill and now knowledge to become a big contributor at corner this season.
Defensive Most Improved Player
Adam: LB Marcus Freeman
This might sound like a strange pick, but I'll go with Freeman. I recall him missing plenty of tackles last season, but I think that could change this season if what we saw and heard of him during the spring and summer is any indication.
Jeff: DT Dexter Larimore
I love what Larimore showed as a freshman last year and think he can make a huge leap at a position that struggled at times as a group last season. Coaches love how his wrestling background has yielded skills that help him gain leverage in the fray, and a year of experience at the college level under his belt should only help.
Marcus: DT Dexter Larimore
Even as a redshirt freshman last season, Larimore put together a solid campaign. He's got a knack for tying up blockers and for slipping loose into the backfield to pressure the quarterback or send a running back in another direction. Bigger and stronger, he should become a force in 2008, but you'll hear a lot more about several others.
Defensive Unsung Hero
Adam: CB Chimdi Chekwa
I'm going to say Chekwa, who will have to take on more responsibilities this season both as teams throw away from Malcolm Jenkins and as players miss time early in the season. His performance will be critical for the defense's success, especially early.
Jeff: S Kurt Coleman
Something about Coleman's demeanor in both the spring and so far in the fall leads me to believe he's going to have an excellent season. If he can force a turnover or two, Coleman will have as big an impact on this defense as anyone – even while players like Laurinaitis and Jenkins receive more publicity.
Marcus: DT Todd Denlinger
Denlinger's injury last season seemed to coincide with the dip in quality of play from the Ohio State defensive tackles, which shouldn't come as a coincidence since he was the only member of the group to enter the season with anything resembling game experience. If he is healthy, I see him as a perfect complement to Larimore as the top tackle tandem.
Defensive Freshman With The Biggest Impact
Adam: DT Garrett Goebel
This is tough because I'm not sure I see many freshmen impacting on defense. In a toss-up between Goebel and Etienne Sabino, I'm going to go with Goebel because there will be more opportunities for playing time along the line than in the linebacker corps.
Jeff: LB Etienne Sabino
Looking at the roster of first-year players, it's hard to come up with any that I can say with 100 percent certainty will receive playing time on the defensive side of the ball. With that in mind, I'll go with a player who might not see the field but still impressed the heck out of me in the spring in Sabino. He could probably start for some Big Ten teams; instead he's this squad's third MIKE backer.
Marcus: DT Garrett Goebel
With so many veterans on the defense, this is a tough one. I'll go with defensive tackle Garrett Goebel, who will join a position group that its own members admit did not play up to par last season.
Bonus: Most Valuable Special Teams Player
Adam: KR Brandon Saine
This kid can flat-out fly on the field, and his emergence as a serious threat in the return game desperately will be needed. The Buckeyes need a spark here, and I think Saine is the best candidate.
Jeff: K Aaron Pettrey
I'm going way out on a limb here, but fortune favors the bold, no? Pettrey's always been a favorite of mine, and people forget just how good he was during the 2006 season. I think if given a shot in camp, he'll again prove just how strong and accurate his leg is. And hey, even if he's just a kickoff specialist, I can guarantee the Buckeye stop troops will be salivating when Pettrey's touchbacks force the opposition to start at its own 20-yard line more often than not.
Marcus: KR Brandon Saine
How about Saine? His kickoff return skills were just part of the reason he won Ohio's Mr. Football award in high school, and a bulked up, healthier Saine should be tough to stop if he can get any kind of an alley from his blockers.