We continue to look at Ohio State's prospects for 2010 by analyzing each position group. In part one we discussed the offense and kicker, so in this segment we'll consider the defense and the rest of the special teams.
DL: Most fans felt like the 2009 defensive line would be a strength for this team, and the big guys didn't disappoint. Led by Cameron Heyward and Thad Gibson, this unit rotated about 9 guys, allowing players to stay fresh, and there is no doubt the back seven benefited from the play of the line.
Next year's d-line will be missing a bunch of guys as Doug Worthington, Todd Denlinger, Lawrence Wilson, and Robert Rose have all used up their eligibility. In addition there are reports that Gibson and/or Heyward may turn pro. The smart money right now is on Gibson opting for the NFL with Heyward staying for his final season. Regardless, there are a bunch of spots to fill. On the positive side Dexter Larimore (DT), John Simon (DT), and Nathan Williams (DE) have established themselves, while others like Garrett Goebel (DT) and Solomon Thomas (DE) have been able to at least get their feet wet. If Heyward returns it would be a huge plus, as he would start at end with Williams, and Larimore and Simon would start at tackle.
Outside of Goebel and Thomas depth is a question mark. Keith Wells has talent at DE but it isn't certain if he will be back and eligible. Other possibilities at end are Melvin Fellows (who redshirted due to injury), Jonathan Newsome who played a little as a true freshmen, and a number of recruits in the class of '10. At tackle, Adam Bellamy redshirted, and the Bucks are hoping to add Shariff Floyd to this year's class and he might be good enough to warrant playing time immediately.
2010 prediction: If Heyward returns the line will be very good, though weaker than '09. If he opts for the big bucks, OSU could be in trouble here.
The good news is that there are a plethora of talented players waiting for playing time: Andrew Sweat, who played well before his season ending injury; Etienne Sabino, who is loaded with talent but has yet to grasp the nuances of the college game; Storm Klein, who looked good as a true freshmen; Dorian Bell, another fast and skilled stud in waiting; and, Jordan Whiting, the forgotten man in the class of '09. With that kind of depth and talent it is doubtful if any of the incoming freshmen see the field.
2010 prediction: If this unit is healthy it will be one of the best in the nation.
DB: This was a big question mark heading into 2009, due to the loss of Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington. For the most part things went well with excellent work from captain Kurt Coleman, good play from Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence and Jermale Hines, and even some decent moments from Anderson "Toast" Russell.
Next year could hinge on the decision of Chekwa who is toying with going pro (a mistake in my estimation). With Coleman, Russell, and Andre Amos graduating, the Bucks need Chimdi to return. If he does, he and Torrence will make an excellent set of corners, and should be joined by Hines and sophomore Orhian Johnson, which would be a solid secondary. Other possibilities at CB are CJ Barnett and Travis Howard, each of whom played a little in '09, and Corey Brown and Dominic Clarke who redshirted. Talent is not an issue; experience is!
At safety, Ohio State does get Aaron Gant back from injury, and as a 5th year senior he will bring some needed knowledge of the defensive schemes. Hard hitting Nate Oliver can tackle but many doubt his coverage skills. Zach Domicone is yet another possibility, but the best bet off the bench may be Jamie Wood, who redshirted in '09 but has plenty of talent.
To this point OSU hasn't received verbals from anyone that will challenge for playing time but that could change if Latwan Anderson and Christian Bryant choose the Bucks.
2010 prediction: If Chekwa returns it should be a solid secondary, maybe as good as '09. If not, look for some fall off here.
Special Teams: We already talked about the kicking game in part one. Punting is not quite as settled, with Ben Buchanan as the only option, unless someone else signs in February. Ben punted for the Toledo game and looked okay. He should be able to at least match Thoma's production which wasn't earth shattering. One good thing: Jake McQuaide is back to long snap and he did a fine job this year.
Who will return punts and kicks is anybody's guess. Ray Small's nine lives are all used up, and Lamaar Thomas is talking about transferring. That leaves DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher as the best options for returning punts, and Brandon Saine and Dan Herron as the only experienced kick returners. My guess is that a young guy pops into the mix. Maybe one of the Corey Brown's, James Jackson or Jamaal Berry or possibly even Jordan Hall. Time will tell.
2010 prediction: The special teams weren't exactly special during most of '09 so hopefully there will be improvement. At this point, though, I'll call for similar results next season.
Way too early prediction on OSU's 2010 record: I'll go with 11-1. Two road games scare me: Iowa and Wisconsin, both of whom will be good next year. I doubt OSU will win both of those, but they should handle the rest of the schedule. It will be an intersting season, and expectations will be high. Here's hoping they can run the table!