Day One Notebook: Defense

Ohio State started spring practice Thursday afternoon, and one of the more interesting developments will be how the Buckeyes replace several starters off one of the top units in college football. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has many options in filling the holes left by graduation. Bill Greene filed this report on the defense.

Although there was no contact, as players were in shorts on Thursday, Ohio State's first spring practice gave a glimpse into how the defense will look in 2010.

Ohio State has to replace several starters and key reserves, and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has a lot of options to choose from.

Etienne Sabino: Gets the first shot at replacing Austin Spitler at linebacker, and Sabino trotted out with the first-team defense. Sabino has been implored to quit thinking so much, and just let his natural instincts take over on the football field. He looked quick and appeared to know exactly where he was supposed to be in every defensive set. This should be his year to shine, after serving as a backup for two years.

Devon Torrence: Was the most impressive defensive back in the first session, locking down every wide receiver he covered. This should be a breakout season for Torrence, his second as a starting cornerback. Torrence will use his size, speed and experience to be one of the premier defensive backs in the Big Ten.

Orhian Johnson: Conventional wisdom has Tyler Moeller starting at safety with Jermale Hines, and while that may be true, there is no way Johnson won't be on the field in 2010. He was the most impressive safety in Thursday's workout, and is an imposing physical presence in the middle of the defensive backfield. Started the Indiana game last year, and was singled out by defensive coordinator Jim Heacock following practice.

Tyler Moeller: The Buckeyes are limiting Moeller's contact throughout spring, but he is participating in every drill with a blue jersey. Moeller will be on the field in 2010 if he proves he can handle the contact in fall camp. He is too valuable a player to not have a role next year, and Heacock mentioned that fact following practice. Head coach Jim Tressel also remarked that "it was good to have Tyler back out there again."

Dominic Clarke: Possibly the future replacement at cornerback in 2011, after Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa depart? Clarke worked with the second team and was impressive, especially breaking on the football. There will be a lot of competition to replace the two starting corners next year, and Clarke should be in the middle of that battle.

Donnie Evege: Another defensive back looking for playing time in 2010, Evege had a lot of reps Thursday, and played well. He was one of the few bright spots on special team's play in 2009, and he's fighting for the 'nickel' back role right now. He is in great shape and seems to know exactly where he's supposed to be in this defense.

Corey Brown: Yet another young cornerback looking for playing time in a backup role. Brown looks great physically, and had a good day Thursday. Coach Tressel mentioned Brown's improvement following practice. There has been no mention of him playing wide receiver, and he's in the mix for playing time in 2010.

Storm Klein: He is the dark-horse candidate to fill the vacant linebacker position, and looked great on Day One. He had the play of the day, breaking on the football, and intercepting quarterback Joe Bauserman, with a diving catch. Klein is imposing physically, and was mentioned by Heacock as possibly getting on the field, in the attempt to get the best three linebackers on the field, regardless of position.

Andrew Sweat: Wore a yellow jersey, and did not participate in any drills, but worked out on the side with a trainer. Sweat appears to be ahead of schedule, and the decision to red-shirt him in 2010 has been discussed, but no final decision has been made.

John Simon: After starring in a backup role in 2009, Simon is projected as a starter this year. He looked good Thursday, playing both tackle and end, depending on the scheme. Simon should be one of the top linemen, using both great strength and quickness off the football.

Garrett Goebel: Could have a similar breakout year as Simon did in 2009. Goebel should see increased playing time, and is in great physical condition to take advantage of the opportunity. He was mentioned by Heacock as one to look for in 2010.

Melvin Fellows: Was all but forgotten after suffering through an injury-plagued freshman season. Fellows is healthy and he looked the part of a highly-touted recruit in Thursday's practice. He was quick off the ball, and had two pass deflections. Fellows was mentioned by both Heacock and Tressel as standing out Thursday.

Keith Wells: This is the player that has been talked about as finally having the light come on, in terms of work ethic and desire. Wells has three years left after red-shirting in 2009, and he looks the part of an NFL defensive end. He's in the mix for playing time at defensive end, and this could be a breakout season for Wells.

Solomon Thomas: Remember this guy? He is finally showing the talent that made him a desirable recruit four years ago. Thomas has worked hard on gaining weight and strength, and is clearly in the mix for playing time at defensive end. Following practice, Heacock refused to state that Nathan Williams was the starting defensive end, preferring to say that Thomas and Williams were both battling to start.

Ross Homan: Homan is so smooth and solid, that he is never going to get the credit he deserves for being such a talented player. Make no mistake, Homan is as good, and as productive as any linebacker the Buckeyes have used in the past few years. Hopefully, he gets All-American run in 2010, along with Cam Heyward. Homan is the quarterback of the defense, and will be asked to lead this unit in 2010.


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