Buckeyes Look For More Stars

Tyler Moeller proved himself to be a capable option at the hybrid defensive back/linebacker star position in 2008 when he replaced an injured Jermale Hines for two games last season. With Moeller out for the season, Ohio State is looking at a couple of different options when the defense goes into a nickel package.

The absence of Tyler Moeller not only left the linebackers scrambling as preseason camp began, but it also left Ohio State looking for more potential stars.

Not a star in the sense of Chris "Beanie" Wells and James Laurinaitis. More like Mike Doss, Donte Whitner and other hard-hitters who played the hybrid "star" position. Moeller played well in limited action at the star in 2008, manning that spot when Ohio State went into nickel formations in two late-season games.

With Moeller out for the season with a head injury suffered prior to preseason camp, several Buckeyes may have the chance to battle for "starring" roles. Junior safety Jermale Hines will likely be the star in the vast majority Ohio State's nickel situations. The Cleveland Glenville product began the 2008 season in that role, but an injury suffered late in the season against Northwestern sidelined the linebacker-turned-safety for the final two games of the regular season. Moeller slid into that role against Illinois and Michigan and thrived, especially in the first game following Hines' injury against the Fighting Illini. On a cold day in Champaign, Ill., Moeller started for the first time in his career and made seven tackles – two for a loss – and forced an Illinois fumble.

Moeller was a favorite to win a starting linebacker position before the season, and Hines was likely to man the star again. But now the Buckeyes will have to rely on Hines and look for new backup options.

Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said Anderson Russell and Nate Oliver have been the main backups behind Hines. Oliver, a sophomore defensive back, was a special teams specialist as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and worked at strong safety and at the star in the spring. He took third-team reps in nickel packages behind Hines and Russell, the latter of whom slid from his starting free safety position into the star during the spring. That opened a spot for redshirt freshman Orhian Johnson in Russell's safety position.

"We rotate in and out and get as many reps as we can," Hines said. "We all try to get as many reps as we can."

Hines, Russell and Oliver each have what Ohio State is looking for in stars – players with good size and speed that can be effective in pass coverage and stopping the run.

As of Ohio State's Media Day on Aug. 13, Fickell was non committal as to how the nickel package rotation would work – or who would or would not stay in it.

"We're only three games into practice, and we don't know a whole lot," Fickell said. "That's probably one of the most fun things and one of the scariest things."

It is also possible the Buckeyes will use three cornerbacks in some nickel situations, likely either Andre Amos or Devon Torrence - whichever does not win the second starting cornerback position.

While Ohio State searches for additional stars, Hines is ready for a potential breakout season. He told reporters on Media Day that he was in the best shape of his life.

"I've feeling really good," said the 6-2, 214-pound Hines. "Last year I contributed a little bit, and I'm looking to do more this year. I understand more. I'm really looking forward to this season."


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