Ohio State Practice Notebook: Defense

Ohio State has reached the mid-way point of spring practice, and several players have stood out, including Etienne Sabino (pictured). This notebook takes a look at the defense, after action inside the WHAC on Friday, and live scrimmaging from the stadium on Saturday. Bill Greene has the latest on the defense.

Ohio State has reached the mid-point of spring practice, and this notebook report was compiled after observing all the action Friday and Saturday. The majority of the defensive back evaluations were based on one-on-one drills inside the WHAC, and live scrimmaging inside the stadium, as the most time was spent watching the defensive backs.

Cameron Heyward: Can he actually be better than he was in 2009? Early indications would state that he just might be. Heyward is basically impossible to block by one player. He seems quicker, if that's possible, and used that talent to block a field goal in the jersey scrimmage. The leader of the defense.

Keith Wells: Is this the year? He is in great shape and seems to be highly motivated, but he is in a battle for playing time. Wells had some good moments Friday, and is in a battle with Melvin Fellows for time at strong-side end. He has three years remaining, after red-shirting in 2009. Batted down two passes on Friday.

Etienne Sabino You can just see he's getting it, and the more success he has, the more it fuels him. As a player that has been told to not think too much, but just react, it appears the game is slowing down for him. He uses his speed off the edge, and his strength at 240-pounds, to make plays. Seems comfortable playing in space. Probably has the best combination of size, speed and athleticism among the linebackers, but now it's time to see that translate to on-field production. Sabino had the big hit of the day on Friday, belting Jordan Hall on a swing pass.

Dorian Bell: Seems to be struggling, a common trait for young players in this system. He seems to hesitate before reacting, a sign of thinking and not playing. Bell has great speed and enough size to play linebacker at a high level. He had several impressive plays Friday, but he also missed tackles and appeared lost at times in pass coverage. Once he gets it, he will be on the field, and hard to replace.

Orhian Johnson: He's looking better and better at safety, and he's going to be hard to beat out as he gets more reps. Running with the first team, alongside Jermale Hines. Johnson is a great athlete, maybe the best overall athlete of the safety prospects. He has the ability to make plays on the ball in the air, and his ability to stop the running game is a given.

Zach Domicone: The biggest surprise of the two-day session was seeing the play of Domicone, who was very good. Now running with the second team defense, next to Tyler Moeller, at safety. Domicone, once thought to be a tweener, seems to have found a home at safety. He ran to the ball well and never seemed out of position. One to watch in 2010.

Aaron Gant: Played with the third team at safety, but is clearly hampered with a bad knee. If you're looking for someone to root for next season, Gant is your guy. Great team guy, and a high-effort performer, but it remains to be seen if he's healthy enough to contribute. Right now, Gant is ahead of Nate Oliver and Jamie Wood on the third team.

C.J. Barnett: If Domicone was the biggest surprise, Barnett was next, and for the wrong reason. Barnett seems to be struggling at a time when many thought he would be battling for a starting safety spot. Way too soon to draw any conclusions, but running third team is not what many expected from Barnett. The talent is evident, but he has to put it together to get in the rotation, and it certainly could happen by the end of spring practice. Did not look comfortable in coverage.

Jamie Wood: Another kid with a lot of talent, but currently running with the fourth team at safety. Wood has four years left to play after redshirting last year. Probably similar to Dorian Bell, that once he gets it, he should have a fine career. Wood has size and speed, and just needs reps to be a player. He had some nice moments Saturday in the pre-kick scrimmage.

Corey Brown: Brown has a lot of talent, and is in a battle with Dominick Clarke and Donnie Evege, to back up the starting corners. Corey did well Friday in one-on-one's, but appeared to struggle in the live scrimmage, and this is common for young players. He needs reps at the position, and realistically 2011 is the year he should be able to contend for a starting spot.

Dominic Clarke: Appeared to get burnt by everyone in the early session Friday, but after some personal coaching from Taver Johnson, Clarke bounced back with a couple nice efforts against Devier Posey and Taurian Washington. In a similar situation as Brown, in that next year should be the year he emerges.

Donnie Evege: Has been tagged as a lifetime special team player, but is now the third cornerback, behind Torrence and Chekwa. Evege is getting a lot of reps, with Chekwa out, and he is making them count. Will be interesting to see who plays the nickel-back next year, from Evege, Clarke, Brown and Travis Howard (currently out after shoulder surgery).

Solomon Thomas: Another pleasant surprise, as Thomas figures to be on the field next season in some role. He is bigger and stronger, and that was always the knock on him. Now that he has added bulk, he can use his speed better to his advantage. Thomas pressured the quarterback during Friday's live scrimmage, and is in a battle with Nathan Williams for playing time.

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