Sweat key to OSU's defense
4/22/2011 7:59 AM
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State's offense hasn't had a great spring.
How much of that is the doing of the defense?
One thing's for certain: The Buckeyes on the other side of the ball believe the defense is for real.
"Definitely there's stuff we could get better at," tight end Jake Stoneburner said of the offense, which has had a so-so spring because of injuries and a shortage of linemen. "But also, we're going against one of the best defenses around."
This isn't supposed to be a vintage year for the defense. The unit was devastated by graduation, losing starting linemen Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and four mainstays in the secondary in corners Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence, safety Aaron Gant and Jermale Hines.
Andrew Sweat, a graduate of Trinity High School and the lone returning starter at linebacker, will likely be joined by Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein, with Dorian Bell and Jordan Whiting backing them up.
A year ago, Sweat was just an afterthought. Now he's one of the team's linchpins.
"It's kind of surreal. It seems like I just got here," the senior said. "You're familiar with the defensive concept so it's kind of neat mentoring the younger guys and seeing them progress."
Defensive end John Simon said it's all in the attitude.
"A lot of people go through spring ball and figure they won't work hard - 'We're just here to practice' or whatever," he said. "But this team, we really get excited every day."
Holdover Nathan Williams teams with Simon at the ends, with Garrett Goebel, Darryl Baldwin and freshman Joel Hale fighting for the one tackle spot. At nosetackle, a slimmed-down Johnathan Hankins - if you can be slimmed down at 6-3 and 335 pounds - has been a terror. Melvin Fellows and Solomon Thomas are also battling for playing time up front, although Thomas must sit out the first five games as part of NCAA sanctions for accepting improper benefits.
Williams knows what needs to be done.
"We're depending on the younger guys to fill in. We've lost seven starters so they have to step up and play for us," he said. "It's definitely a huge challenge to replace guys on the defense. I know the coaching staff and myself look forward to the challenge it's going to be replacing those guys."
The one returnee in the backfield is Orhian Johnson, who had a fine year at free safety. Bradley Roby and Dominic Clarke are battling for one cornerback spot opposite Travis Howard and Dionte Allen. Christian Bryant, who saw some action a year ago as a freshman at the star position, will duel with Tyler Moeller, who was a starter before a torn chest muscle ended his season. Nate Oliver and Jamie Wood, along with a freshman or two, will probably add some insurance in the secondary.
The competition at so many positions has turned up the heat on what has been a cool spring.
"(We're) extremely fired up. We were having a good time," Simon said. "That's the way defense should be - just let loose and have fun." Copyright Observer Publishing Co.