Injuries Force Defensive Adjustments

On a team with established starters, younger players have to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them. For five Buckeyes, that chance is right now. Take a look at a few new(ish) faces like Andrew Sweat who are earning valuable reps in fall camp.

Ohio State knew it would have to replace a number of defensive starters this season, but this is getting ridiculous.

With the season's first game 16 days away, the Buckeyes went against the first-team offense during Tuesday's practice down five projected starters. Although four of them are expected to be back in action when Marshall pays a Sept. 2 visit to Ohio Stadium, the day's practice provided a glimpse of what the team's depth chart looks like to this point.

The lone injury believed to be serious was suffered by defensive end Nathan Williams during a Saturday scrimmage. The junior who was expected to replace Thaddeus Gibson in the starting lineup and had looked unblockable at times during camp suffered a knee injury and watched practice from the sidelines.

"We don't know when Nate's going to be back," senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. "It's going to take a great deal of focus to replace Nate."

He has been replaced in the starting lineup by junior Solomon Thomas, who has recorded nine tackles while being relegated to a role both as a reserve and on special teams. Senior lineman Cameron Heyward, the leader of the group, said this is a big test for the 6-5, 226-pound Thomas.

"Being around Ohio State, you've got to have a good rotation," Heyward said. "Solomon's got to step up. I know he's been in the system and he knows it really well, but now we're depending on him. In the past, the coaches didn't really have a lot of confidence in him but he's getting a chance now and he's got to shine now. We're counting on him this year and hopefully he produces."

Thomas has the benefit of having been around for three full seasons after taking a redshirt as a freshman. One of the players thrust into the lineup – redshirt freshman Corey Brown – has never taken a snap in a collegiate game.

The two-way prep star who also projected as a wideout in college was thrust into action after senior cornerback Chimdi Chekwa removed himself from drills after suffering what he described was a slight injury to his hamstring.

That made him one-half of a new pairing at the cornerback position. In addition to Chekwa, senior and returning starter Devon Torrence has also been nursing a hamstring injury and has missed several practices. He was replaced by Travis Howard, a redshirt sophomore who has been held back by injuries of his own throughout his OSU career.

"It's good for him to get in the flow of things," Chekwa said of Howard. "He's a guy who we expect to be good enough to play with the ones and good enough to go out there and play in a game. If we had a game tomorrow, I would expect Travis to be able to play. It's good for him to be able to get out there and work hard and get better."

Both Chekwa and Torrence would likely be able to go if the Marshall game was tomorrow, but their absence has created opportunity for others.

"The opportunity for me this year is very high," Howard said August 8. "In previous years I had a couple injuries when I was having a pretty good camp but the injuries took a toll on me. This year I came back strong, had a nice summer workout and it's looking real good. All I've got to do is keep healthy."

Further from the line of scrimmage, sophomore safety Orhian Johnson sported an ice wrap on his lower left leg and did not practice. After seeing 12 minutes of action in a road win against Indiana and a season-high 21 minutes in a home blowout against New Mexico State, the athletic Johnson was pegged to take over the free safety position vacated by departed senior Anderson Russell.

Instead, sophomore C.J. Barnett has been taking Johnson's place with the starters. After Tuesday's practice, he was singled out by senior star Tyler Moeller for his play.

However, Moeller downplayed the significance of the injuries that have hit the defensive secondary.

"Everyone has little dings and they're keeping some guys out but nothing too serious," he said. "They should all be back sometime in camp."

Keeping with a theme, senior linebacker Ross Homan told reporters he is about 90 percent recovered from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him since at least Saturday. His replacement was junior Andrew Sweat, who missed the final six games of the 2009 season with a knee injury.

Now fully healthy, Sweat lined up with senior Brian Rolle and junior Etienne Sabino in OSU's base defense but came out when the Buckeyes went to their nickel defense. Rolle said Sweat has matured to the point where he has earned the spot.

"He's doing a great job of being calmer and more patient," the senior said. "He's a guy that when he first got here, he was everywhere. He loves to hit and he loves to be fast, but now he knows that we're depending on him. He's doing a good job of doing his job and playing his position and being where he needs to be."

In all, the Buckeyes replace six players who started at least six games on defense last season. Of the five returning starters from last season, three are currently on the shelf.

The majority of the new first-teamers will likely give way once the other guys return to the lineup, but Heyward offered some advice to Thomas that could apply to the rest of them as well.

"I didn't say, ‘Hey, here's your time,' " the senior said. "The main thing I said was, ‘You've got to take your chance. You've got to take advantage of your opportunities.' "

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