Checking In With The New Starters

With an important third game of the season coming up, now is as good a time as any to check in with the new starters on the Ohio State football team. Though the talk surrounding the Buckeyes coming into the season dealt with their returning stars, there have been six new starters through two games.

Coming into the season, most of the talk about the Ohio State football team was around the 20 starters – nine on offense, nine on defense and two special teamers – who returned for a team that started the season ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll.

But almost pushed aside in that wave of returning veterans was the fact that Ohio State still had to replace four starters. Gone were first-round draft pick and single-season sack record holder Vernon Gholston at defensive end, a solid four-year starter at right tackle in Kirk Barton and two other dependable players in linebacker Larry Grant and fullback Dionte Johnson.

Heading into the USC game, each player will have to be at the top of his game for the Buckeyes to knock off the top-ranked Trojans. BSB takes a look at how each of those players has done so far.

DE Lawrence Wilson: Wilson had arguably the toughest task coming in, having to replace Gholston, who vaulted into the national consciousness and into the record books with three sacks against Michigan.

To call Wilson a new starter is a bit unfair. He was a dependable backup for his first two seasons in 2005 and '06 and was ready to assume a starting job last year, even making a sack during the first half against Youngstown State. But a freak injury broke his leg, putting him on a rehab track that came up just short of allowing him to play in the national title game.

So far, Wilson has made his share of plays. He brought down Youngstown State quarterback Todd Rowan for a sack during the season opener – helping erase memories from a year ago – and then had an acrobatic interception and 24-yard return against Ohio.

"I was anxious to make a play to show my teammates I'm back and everything," he said after the first game when he dropped Rowan for an 18-yard loss. "It felt great."

Wilson has spent his fair share of time in the opposing backfield, and as such he's racked up a full stat sheet through two games. He has four tackles – 1.5 for loss – and the sack and interception.

However, he was a bit frustrated after the Ohio game, especially because of one series. He nearly had another interception during the second quarter but had to settle for knocking it down. One play later, he had Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson corralled in the backfield, but Jackson got away to complete a 30-yard pass.

"I left a lot of things on the field, and we're going to focus this week on making all of the plays that we need to make," he said.

LB Ross Homan: The Coldwater, Ohio, native came in with the hype that he'd be the next great Ohio State linebacker, and he added fuel to the fire when he made 28 tackles as a true freshman in 2006. However, a foot injury sidetracked him last year after he spent the first three games establishing himself with Marcus Freeman as a part-time player at weak-side linebacker. He ended up taking a medical redshirt.

So far, the sophomore has played well. He is placed third on the team with 10 tackles, six of those on his own. He's shown the ability to be an excellent tackler and has excelled at bringing down players as quickly as possible once he gets to the ball carrier.

"Ross looked natural," Freeman said of Homan after the first game. "He looked like he felt good. He played well. He has great instincts. Ross played well, and he's going to be a huge part of this defense.

"Ross ever since his freshman year has looked like a natural ‘Will' linebacker. He's playing good football right now and he's doing a great job."

So far, he has been on the field about half of the time as the Buckeye defense has rotated from its base 4-3 into nickel and dime packages on longer downs. He has started both games and should see increased playing time against USC's more traditional offense.

RT Bryant Browning: After spending two years learning the Buckeye system, the redshirt sophomore stepped into a line replacing the other four starters. So far, Browning has been solid but not spectacular, as one would have thought from a new starter at one of the toughest positions to play.

After the opening game, head coach Jim Tressel was complementary of the job the brainy Cleveland Glenville grad had done.

"He did well," Tressel said after the YSU contest. "He didn't quite grade winning performance … but I thought he played solid."

The offensive line was much maligned after the win against Ohio, and Browning was no exception. Afterward, Tressel said that Browning had made some mistakes but had played solid and was coming along.

Browning said that it was taking him a while to getting used to being counted on during every play, but he was relishing the challenge of being a new every down player.

"As an offensive line, you kind of try to play with a rhythm, so whenever you get out there and can get a couple of hits and get in a rhythm, that really gets you flowing and gets you going," he said.

FB Brandon Smith: The linebacker-turned-tight end-turned-fullback is still getting the nuances of his new position down, but he started well enough. The fifth-year senior blocked well against Youngstown State and also caught a pass for 6 yards.

"I thought he did a good job," tight end Rory Nicol said after that contest. "I was super excited to see him out there. I told him on Sunday, I watched the film before him, I said, ‘I thought you played a pretty good game.'"

Reviews were a little more mixed after the Ohio game, however, as the Buckeye running game struggled to get untracked at times against the Bobcats. Curtis Terry made his season debut at the position and helped Smith in some short-yardage situations.

Special Additions – CB Chimdi Chekwa and S Jermale Hines: The Buckeyes have all four starting defensive backs on the roster from a year ago, but circumstances pushed the two into the starting lineup for the first two games of the season. Chekwa took over for the suspended Donald Washington and Hines spelled Kurt Coleman, who missed the YSU game with an injury and came off the bench against Ohio.

Chekwa is not a stranger to being on the field, however. He started one game and saw extensive playing time a season ago when he was the team's fifth defensive back.

This season, he made two tackles in the two games he started and was solid in pass coverage.

Then there's Hines, who played just about every position at Glenville and who has yo-yoed between linebacker and safety since arriving in Columbus. Through the first two games he was solid but showed his youth in flashes. One thing that is for certain is he packs a punch – he separated a YSU player from the ball during the opener and then laid a hit on Ohio quarterback Theo Scott that knocked the signal caller out of the game.

"That's something we expected," Freeman said of Hines' solid play. "Jermale has been a playmaker ever since he's walked into Ohio State."

Hines has made three tackles, one for loss, in the two games and also recovered a fumble.

As for whether the two will still have starting jobs against USC, Tressel had a coy answer.

"Tune in," he said.

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