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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State secondary took a big hit for the second consecutive season, as the Buckeyes return only one starter to the defensive backfield.
On top of losing starting safety Jermale Hines, Ohio State also had to fight the injury bug, as the team finished its spring practice sessions with a scrimmage in which 10 players from the secondary didn't.
However, with nearly a month of practice in the spring, position battles became a tad clearer heading into the fall and players began to emerge.
With 29 practices to go before the season opener in early Sept., there's still plenty that can chance. BuckeyeGrove.com, however, brings you the up-to-date breakdown of Ohio State's safety position.
Get the full analysis below:
Key losses: Jermale Hines and Aaron Gant
Returners: Orhian Johnson, Jamie Wood, C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant, and Zach Domicone
Spring newcomers: Ron Tanner and Jeremy Cash
Fall Newcomers: None
19 Orhian Johnson (6-2, 205, rJr.)
21 Jamie Wood (6-1, 198, rSo.)
16 Zach Domicone (6-3, 211, rJr.)
17 Jeremy Cash (6-2, 190, Fr.)
4 [db]C.J. Barnett (6-0, 190, Jr.)
2 Christian Bryant (5-9, 178, So.)
28 Ron Tanner (6-1, 190, Fr.)
1. How big is the loss of Jermale Hines?
Just like it was a year ago, Ohio State must recover from a ton of losses in the secondary from the year before. Two years ago the Buckeyes lost both Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman to graduation and Hines was one of three starters to leave Ohio State's secondary after last year. Though the Buckeyes took the biggest hit at the cornerback spot - losing two multiple-year starters - the loss of Hines can't be scoffed at. Hines was perhaps the perfect safety a year ago, bringing a the entire package of talent, veteran leadership, and versatility. His amazing ability to step up and defend the run will be sorely missed by the Buckeyes, in addition to the big hit he delivered in what seemed to be every game. A recent draft pick by the St. Louis Rams, Hines developed into what was one of the most consistent players on Ohio State's defense a year ago.
2. Where does that leave Johnson?
The bottom line is that Johnson is the only player that is returning to Ohio State's secondary this year with starting experience. Perhaps the scariest part of the equation for the Buckeyes is last season was a year for Johnson to try and catch on while learning on the fly. Once again this spring you could see that Johnson struggled at times, but the youngster has continued to try and improve and solidify himself as a starter. Johnson clearly had some "Welcome to Big Ten football" moments last season, but the experienced gained from an entire season under his belt should serve him well come the 2011 season.
3. Is Johnson guaranteed a spot as a starter?
Throughout the entire course of the spring Johnson was consistently playing with the first team defense in the secondary. But keep in mind that Ohio State was victim to a slew of injuries in the spring that eventually kept out 10 defensive backs in the spring-concluding scrimmage. That doesn't mean that Johnson wouldn't have gotten those reps had everyone been healthy, but things certainly could have been different.
Take a look back to last year and you will remember that Barnett originally beat out Johnson at safety. However, Johnson was abruptly thrown into the starting lineup when Barnett's season came to an end after a season-ending knee injury. With Hines gone, Barnett will likely recoup his starting spot alongside Johnson, but O.J. may need to fight to keep his spot from Bryant. With both cornerback spots seemingly locked down, the coaching staff is going to try and find a way to get Bryant onto the field. If he recovers from his injuries from last year and in the spring, Bryant could push Johnson for that starting spot in the secondary. Long story short - Johnson's position isn't locked down.
4. What's the status with Barnett?
Barnett missed all of last season after suffering from a serious knee injury. Though he probably could have partook in spring practice in a full capacity, the coaching staff held him out of the heavy contact drills in order to ensure he continued to progress. He was out there during all the informational drills and took part in all the conditioning with the team, but knee injuries are always something to be careful with. Barnett should be able to participate in everything this fall and is currently expected to step right in with the first team and compete.
5. Could Cash or Tanner figure into things this fall?
With the secondary as banged up as it was this spring, both Cash and Tanner found themselves on the field a lot more than freshmen typically see. What was even more encouraging about that was the fact that both Tanner and Cash seemed to be in the right places at all times, making plays and getting after it. That doesn't make them shoe-ins to get playing time, but it certainly isn't going to hurt at the commencement of fall camp.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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