Heacock's 'Silver Bullets' Still Evolving

The Ohio State defensive unit is one that has a fair number of question marks for one that returns nine starters. But owing to injuries and off-the-field issues, the Buckeyes are moving a number of players around. Find out who will be playing where and who has been lost for the season in this update.

It was almost as an afterthought that Jim Heacock reached down to hold his necklace after being asked about it. There, dangling over his gray Ohio State t-shirt marked with sweat from the morning's practice, the team's defensive coordinator had a curious piece of metal hanging from around his neck.

It was a single silver bullet given to him when he arrived in Columbus in 1996 as an assistant under then-head coach John Cooper. Symbolizing OSU's attacking "silver bullet" defense, it makes sense for Heacock to wear one with him during practice.

"All the coaches had them and wore them, and for the last three years I've worn it," he said. "It's nothing big. Usually I have it tucked in. It's something Fred Pagac started in 1996."

Although Heacock admitted he did not know the caliber of the bullet dangling around his neck, he is starting to get a better picture of the caliber of the defense he will be commanding this season. But on a team that returns nine defensive starters, the biggest question marks appear to be along the line – which is also the position group Heacock personally oversees.

Gone from last season is Vernon Gholston, who set the school's single-season sack record with 14 in 2007. In addition to having to replace that type of game-changing presence, the Buckeyes are widely considered to be weak at the tackle position.

But as he looks at his 2008 defensive line, Heacock sees plenty of options both at end and tackle.

When the Buckeyes utilize their base defense – which they opened 12 games in last season – they will use sophomore Cameron Heyward and junior Lawrence Wilson as the starting ends. But when they move to nickel, they are working on moving Heyward inside and bringing sophomore Thaddeus Gibson into the game at Heyward's vacated end spot.

"Really what it does is it allows us to get a faster guy on the edge, and then when (Heyward) goes down inside it puts a little bit faster guy inside," Heacock said. "Probably it picks up the speed at both spots a little bit. We're experimenting with it and seeing how he does with it."

Junior Doug Worthington is also a candidate to see playing time at both end and tackle, Heacock said. However, his status is in question for the first game after he was charged with OVI during the summer. As such, he's not working with the first-team defense.

The on-field plan for Worthington is similar to the one in place for junior Robert Rose, who is now fully healthy after undergoing two shoulder surgeries. Heacock said Rose looked "dominant" during the team's morning practice.

The overall plan for the line is to determine which players are the top eight and then try and see where they fit, Heacock said.

The biggest question marks might come at the tackle spots, where the Buckeyes have several players who saw significant playing time last season. As of now, Heacock said he has not consistently listed any starters at those positions.

"Every day I'm changing them," he said. "Dexter (Larimore) has had a really good fall and Todd (Denlinger) is consistently good and Nader (Abdallah) is better than he was a year ago and Doug is really playing well. Every day there is a different starter, and we're keeping the competition going."

All four of those players will play significantly, Heacock said.

"We're all just trying to get better," Abdallah said. "Every day we have new ones, twos, nickel package, base package. We're just rolling through and everybody's just trying to get each other better. No one is fighting out there."

The Buckeyes brought in five defensive linemen as part of their 2008 recruiting class, but that number is steadily thinning. Shawntel Rowell will likely not enroll until December as he sorts an academic situation out, while Willie Mobley has been lost for the year with a shoulder injury that Heacock said he came to college with. In addition, Nathan Williams missed the summer while he satisfied an academic situation, leaving just Garrett Goebel and Keith Wells as potential candidates to make an impact this season.

Heacock listed Goebel as being impressive for a freshman, but said he doubts the former state wrestling champion will be able to crack into the team's depth.

"Down the road, he's really going to be special," Heacock said of Goebel.

The defense also saw at least a partial return of erstwhile linebacker Curtis Terry. After taking a medical redshirt last season, the Cleveland Glenville alumnus was being auditioned at fullback to help address an area of need for the team.

Head coach Jim Tressel said Terry was a full-time fullback as of the beginning of camp, but August 12 marked a day he found himself back on defense.

"We're still trying to find a role for him," Heacock said.

Other roles up for grabs are in the secondary, where the Buckeye will have two defensive backs miss the first two games of the season. Sophomore Chimdi Chekwa will likely replace Donald Washington as a starter, and he will move inside and be replaced by junior Andre Amos when OSU moves to its nickel defense. However, if Chekwa stays at corner, the Buckeyes could use either sophomore Jermale Hines (now a full-time safety) or sophomore Tyler Moeller to fill the extra spot.

It all adds up to a shifting defensive look that could take on many different looks throughout the season. It's Heacock's job to make them work.

Hopefully he doesn't have to put that bullet around his neck to use before it's all said and done.


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