June 23, 2013

Under the radar: defense

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The start of fall camp is still a little more than a month away, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the 2013 season. With that in mind, here's a look at five players on the defensive side of the ball who have flown under the radar thus far at Ohio State, and will help try to lead the Buckeyes to a second consecutive undefeated season.

Doran Grant, cornerback

On paper, replacing first-team All-Big Ten selection Travis Howard appears to be one of the tougher tasks for the OSU defense, but it was Grant who pushed the since-departed senior to his limits in a position battle a season ago. The Akron, Ohio native ultimately settled in as the Buckeyes' No. 3 cornerback, but started in the team's victory over UAB, where he earned the team's defensive player of the game award.

The key for Grant will be finding consistency this season, something that the junior apparently lacked in 2012. OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs raved about the progress that Grant made in the spring, and he could go from forgotten man to emerging star in a matter of no time.

Joshua Perry, linebacker

Of the five freshman linebackers that the Buckeyes successfully recruited in 2012, only Perry saw the field on a semi-consistent basis last season. Filling in for an injured Etienne Sabino, the Lewis Center, Ohio native recorded a total of five tackles while appearing in 10 games for Ohio State.

This season, Perry will be counted on to permanently fill the void left by Sabino at Ohio State's strongside linebacker position. Although the Buckeyes' often worked with two linebackers on the field at a time in spring practice, Perry has the size (6-foot-4, 243 pounds) and versatility to be a mainstay on the OSU defense for the next three seasons.

Michael Bennett, defensive tackle

Although defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington have nabbed most of the headlines when it comes to who will help replace the Buckeyes' four departed starters on the defensive line, Bennett has quietly put together a solid offseason, in which he's been dealt the task of filling in for second round draft pick Johnathan Hankins at the defensive tackle position. Entering his junior season, Bennett is one of the Buckeyes' more experienced new starters, but was hampered by injuries in 2012.

This offseason, however, the Centerville, Ohio native has been lauded for his leadership on what is otherwise a young Ohio State defensive line. The 6-foot-3, 285 pounder may not have the size or natural talent that Hankings possessed, but is determined to make the most of his upcoming opportunity.

Curtis Grant, linebacker

He may not have lived up to his expectations as a five-star prospect in 2011 or as an expected starter in 2012, but Grant is determined to make his junior season be the one in which he turns things around. After losing his starting spot three games into his sophomore season, the Virginia native again finds himself as the Buckeyes' projected middle linebacker, but OSU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell is confident that things will be different for Grant this season.

"The will and the want-to has never been a question. It's just the ability to continue to mature. All these players have different things going on in their lives that help them mature," Fickell said. "I've seen some of the things he's gone through and I think this has really been a positive."

Corey Brown, defensive back

While redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell has taken ahold of the Buckeyes' starting nickelback position, don't count out Brown making major contributions just yet. A fifth-year senior, Brown possesses the capability to play almost anywhere in the OSU secondary, whether it be safety, cornerback, nickelback, or in the dime package.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has already named Brown as a potential surprise performer this season, and the Pittsburgh, Pa. native seems intent on fulfilling his coach's prophecy. We may not be sure of where he'll do it yet, but there stands reason to believe that Brown will make his presence felt in one way or another in 2013.

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