Midseason Gradebook: Ohio State Defense

On paper, the 2008 Ohio State defense looks to be as dominating as ever. However, a closer look reveals plenty of room for improvement, especially along the defensive line. See how Buckeye Sports Bulletin views the situation and voice your opinion on our message boards.

At the halfway point, the Ohio State defense has put up some pretty respectable numbers. As a unit, Buckeyes ranked 18th in team defense at 264.17 yards of offense allowed per contest – a figure made worse by the season-high 348 yards surrendered to USC in week three.

Add in rankings against the run – 109.2 yards per game, good enough for 32nd-best in the nation – and pass – 155.0 yards per game, 14th-best – and you paint the picture of a Buckeye defense upholding the proud "Silver Bullets" tradition established in recent years.

However, uncertainty along the line as both Doug Worthington and Todd Denlinger have seen their snaps limited have helped keep the team's men in the trenches performing at a less-than-satisfactory level. The impact of that has been opposing linemen making it to the second wave of defenders and making plays on the OSU linebackers.

Still, players such as James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Kurt Coleman, among others, have helped to hold down the back seven and put the Buckeyes in position to win games.

Read on for how Buckeye Sports Bulletin sees all it through the first six games of the season.

Defensive Line: This has been the weak point for the OSU defense, plain and simple. The OSU coaches have rotated a number of players in and out of the lineup in an attempt to create a spark, but little has seemed to work.

Inside, Worthington's off-the-field issues hurt the team early while Denlinger's lingering ankle injury has hurt them late. Former end Cameron Heyward has moved inside as the Buckeyes have tried to get more of a mix of speed and strength on the field, but teams are still finding running room against the OSU front line.

Perhaps the biggest spark has come from Thaddeus Gibson, who has seen the most significant playing time of his career and has begun to show that he is the type of player who can be relied upon on a consistent basis.

"I think they've been solid," Tressel said of the defensive line. "I don't know that they've been out of this world and I think they know that, that we've got to get better, we've got to play lower, we've got to play faster."

They've also got to play better if the Buckeyes want to be successful in the final six games.

BSB midterm grade: C-

Linebackers: Trying to get a full gauge on how the team's linebackers are performing has been difficult because of the play of the defensive line. From a statistical standpoint, the status quo remains: Laurinatis, Ross Homan and Marcus Freeman are the team's three leading tacklers, and Freeman leads the team in tackles for loss and sacks.

However, the unit has largely been lacking a breakout performance typically turned in by Laurinaitis (think Texas in 2006 or Washington last year). That does not mean that the linebackers are underperforming, but rather that they are not having ground-breaking seasons.

Although he comes off the field when the Buckeyes go into their nickel defense, Homan has emerged as a solid defender in his first taste of extended playing time. Behind the trio of starters, a number of younger players such as Etienne Sabino, Brian Rolle and Andrew Sweat are helping to fill out the depth chart and are making their presences known on special teams.

This unit has some room for improvement, but should see greater things happen if the defensive line can step up its play in the second half.

BSB midterm grade: B

Secondary: Judging by the number of interceptions the OSU defensive backs have grabbed this year through six games (seven), the secondary has not had much problem making an impact on games. That attitude comes from senior captain Malcolm Jenkins, who is the unquestioned leader of the unit, but he, too, is lacking a breakout game this year.

The numbers show that the secondary is performing well, and some of that has to do with a certain amount of depth. Across from Jenkins, Chimdi Chekwa and Donald Washington keep battling for playing time to the point where cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson views each of them as potential starters.

The safety spots have primarily been manned by two dependable faces in Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman, but an injury suffered at the end of camp forced Coleman to give up his starting spot to Jermale Hines for two games. The former linebacker has since carved out a niche as the team's nickel back as well as the primary backup at both safety positions.

A few penalties aside, the secondary has played solid through the first six games. Only the lack of a truly dominating performance against a Division I team is holding them back from earning an ‘A.'

BSB midterm grade: B+


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