Ohio State looks to continue strong defensive ways

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Now if the Ohio State Buckeyes can just defend like this during the season.

Everyone seems to know that the nation’s No. 1 team has only two defensive starters back from last season, and that new frontliners will be filling in at every linebacker and secondary position.

Despite those losses, or maybe because of them, the Buckeyes have spent the preseason defending their defense.

“Yeah, we may not have a lot of big-name guys, the A.J. Hawks and Bobby Carpenters, on defense,” said safety Brandon Mitchell. “But we have great talent. That’s what it boils down to.”

In addition to those two high-profile linebackers, the Buckeyes are also missing linemen Mike Kudla and Marcus Green, linebacker Anthony Schlegel, cornerbacks Tyler Everett and Ashton Youboty and safeties Nate Salley and Donte Whitner.

The only returnees from the first unit are tackles David Patterson and Quinn Pitcock.

This year’s defense will likely be manned by a bunch of decidedly non-household names: Lawrence Wilson, Jay Richardson, John Kerr, James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, Malcolm Jenkins, Nick Patterson, Jamario O’Neal, Kurt Coleman, Antonio Smith and several other character actors now in starring roles.

The talk, naturally, is that Ohio State’s offense, led by quarterback Troy Smith, tailback Antonio Pittman and wide receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr., will likely have to carry the day until the defense finds its footing.

“We know what people are saying about us, but we really don’t pay attention to that,” said Laurinaitis, who is expected to fill one of the holes at linebacker. “We lost some really, really, really phenomenal players. We know what we’ve got cut out for us. We have athletes here. We have plenty of great players here. We need to reload.”

Jim Tressel, in his sixth year at Ohio State and his 21st as a head coach, acknowledged that it’s rare for a team to lose so many players off one side of the ball and so few off the other.

“From an experience standpoint, it’s unusual,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get that experience fast.”

There are several major questions on the defensive side. Can oft-injured linebacker Mike D’Andrea be a factor? Can incoming freshmen such as end Robert Rose, linebackers Larry Grant, Tyler Moeller, Mark Johnson and Ross Homan and defensive backs Chimdi Chekwa, Grant Schwartz and Aaron Gant contribute right away?

Kerr, a former starter at Indiana, has bided his time after transferring and should be more than an adequate replacement at linebacker. Laurinaitis played almost all of the Michigan game after Carpenter broke his foot, and then started the bowl victory over Notre Dame. Freeman would have been in the mix at linebacker a year ago but had to be redshirted after a knee injury.