Buckeyes Hope Experience Builds Chemistry

The first-team defense stepping on the field for Ohio State against Marshall one week from today might not look much like the first unit seen throughout fall camp. As injuries have thinned the ranks, find out what impact the Buckeyes think the situation might have on the team's defensive capablities.

As always, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel found the silver lining following his team's Saturday jersey scrimmage. Conspicuous in their absence from action were four projected defensive starters and two more were missing by the time the scrimmage was over.

It's been that kind of camp for the Buckeyes, but the head coach spun it into a positive by saying the situation has presented a number of youngsters with valuable first-team reps. But as the Buckeyes' season opener draws near, is there concern that the defense is not developing chemistry as a complete unit?

"You definitely need (chemistry) on defense with how we communicate with other players," senior linebacker Ross Homan said. "It's a sense of working together. You move together and you really do need that chemistry."

Homan is one of the walking wounded for the Buckeyes. The senior linebacker with 19 career starts has been battling a hamstring issue for much of fall camp and pulled himself from the lineup after feeling it tighten up after a few plays.

With as much experience as Homan has, it is a case of better safe than sorry. The same argument goes for the rest of his injured teammates. Senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who leads the team with 32 career starts, suffered what he described as a little shoulder bruise near the midway point of the scrimmage and watched the rest from the sidelines.

In the secondary, seniors Chimdi Chekwa (26 starts) and Devon Torrence (11 starts) and sophomore Orhian Johnson missed the entire scrimmage. The same went for junior Nathan Williams, who continues to battle a knee injury that has his status for the Marshall game in question.

Torrence and Chekwa are both battling hamstring injuries, but Torrence said he is making the most of the time he has missed.

"(Not being out there) allowed me to focus on the defense and be able to understand the package," he said. " ‘Where's the blitz coming from?' OK, now I know the blitz is coming from the boundary so I know the throw is probably going to go here. Stuff like that I was able to focus on a lot more. I think it may have been a blessing in disguise."

In addition, Torrence said the time on the sidelines will mean he is fresher than most players when the season starts.

The two corners have experience playing with each other, played alongside each other in all 13 games last season. However, the 11 players expected to comprise the starting lineup have never started a game together.

Senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said the primary concern is for players to be on the same page with their fellow position mates.

"Obviously you want chemistry throughout the whole defense, which I think we have, but it's really important to make sure that the defensive line is on the same page and the linebackers are on the same page," he said. "For younger guys, it's more important to make sure that you know what you're doing. You've got to be able to communicate with the guys (alongside) you."

While the likes of Heyward, Chekwa and Homan have plenty of experience to draw from, the same can not be said for Johnson. Should he recover from a lower left leg injury, Johnson would be making his first career start against the Thundering Herd.

In addition, he needs to build a relationship with senior Jermale Hines, who enters his first full season as a safety. Instead of Johnson, it was redshirt freshman C.J. Barnett – a former cornerback – working with Hines on the first unit.

"It's a chance for a lot of younger guys to step up and really make plays," Larimore said of the situation. "That's what we saw today, younger guys stepping up and getting in there and being confident in themselves and working with other guys they're not used to working with."

The good news is that none of the injuries are believed to be serious. Had the Buckeyes been playing someone other than themselves Saturday in Ohio Stadium, all of the aforementioned players save Williams would have been in action.

"The guy that is most significant injury is Nate Williams, but I wouldn't bet against him for the opener," Tressel said after the scrimmage. "The rest of the things are little aggravated this and that. That hot weather took a little bit out of us and we got a little dehydrated in the middle point of camp. Knock on wood, I think nothing major."

Once the injured players return to action, the belief is that past experience will be enough to help them quickly assimilate back into the defensive attack. Although as Homan put it, they will need to continue working to develop a comfort level with the other players and positions on the unit.

"We've had some experience," Homan said. "You have to work at it, but hopefully we get healthy. There's no doubt in my mind we will."

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