January 7, 2013

Roby's return stabilizes secondary

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Most expected it to happen. After all, redshirt sophomores don't typically enter the NFL Draft early, even though they're three years removed from high school and eligible to do so.

But just because it wasn't shocking, that doesn't mean that Bradley Roby's decision to return to Ohio State for his junior season was any less important for the Buckeyes. In fact, the significance of Roby's return to Columbus goes beyond the obvious.

On the surface, bringing back a second team All-American and one of the country's top defensive backs is enough cause for celebration for the OSU coaching staff and fans alike. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound cornerback routinely made difference-making plays for the Buckeyes throughout their 12-0 season in 2012, leading the country in passes defended with an average 1.73 per game and scoring three touchdowns in a variety of ways.

While every coach in the country would welcome a player with a resume like that back with open arms, Meyer is likely even more grateful for Roby's decision to stay in school given what his defense would look like without the first team All-Big Ten selection.

Between defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins's decision to enter the upcoming draft and graduation, Ohio State was already slated to lose seven starters from its 2012 defense. That total includes all four of the Buckeyes' starting defensive linemen from a season ago, as well as two linebackers and cornerback Travis Howard. Although he was not listed as a starter, OSU will also lose defensive back Orhian Johnson, who played a significant number of snaps for the Buckeyes at both safety and the nickelback position.

That means that eight players who played key roles for OSU on defense in 2012 won't be back for 2013. Projected to be at least a second round pick should he have entered the draft, Roby could have easily pushed that number to nine.

But by returning to Ohio State, Roby not only helped stabilize the Buckeyes' secondary, but made it a strength of the team. With both starting safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant expected to return in 2013, the only newcomer to Ohio State's defensive backfield starting lineup will be junior cornerback Doran Grant.

The Buckeyes could do a lot worse than Grant, who filled in for an injured Roby in OSU's win over UAB on Sept. 22. The former four-star recruit played admirably against the Blazers, recording seven tackles and one sack, in addition to recovering a fumble and sealing the 29-15 victory with a fourth quarter interception.

Given the struggles that Grant endured in the limited playing time he received in the remainder of the season, Roby's return is all the more important. The Akron, Ohio native won't be thrust into the starting lineup expected to be the Buckeyes' top cornerback, but will rather be their second player at the position, with Roby manning the team's top spot.

More abstractly, talent is talent, and OSU's lockdown cornerback has plenty of it. While they'll still be replacing eight key players, the Buckeyes defense will not only return Roby, but All-Big Ten linebacker Ryan Shazier, a quartet of former blue chip prospects on its defensive line, and an experienced secondary. Meyer's second team at Ohio State will still face plenty of questions in 2013, but Roby's return makes for just one more thing that the Buckeyes can be sure about next season.


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