July 4, 2011
Five to look out for: Defense
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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio State football team now has a defensive-minded head coach. And with Luke Fickell's biggest manta being toughness, Ohio State's defense will probably look the part.
The defensive side of the ball didn't take as big of a hit as the offense did when it comes to looming suspensions and departures, but there are plenty of spots up for grabs heading into the rapidly approaching fall camp.
Even with plenty of established returning faces, we take a look at some new guys who could be on the verge of stepping into big roles. Get the five players to watch out for below:
Etienne Sabino, LB - For the past two seasons everyone has been patiently waiting for Sabino's time to come. Last spring Sabino jumped into the starting rotation but was eventually beaten out by Andrew Sweat. This time around, coaches finally seem prepared to give him a major role. Allowing him a redshirt season in the middle of his career shows the coaching staff has faith that he can be special. With the big spring stemming off what looked like a true understanding of the defensive scheme, Sabino finally seems ready to take on that role head on.
Travis Howard, CB - Ohio State's secondary was crippled last year when it lost Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa, two cornerbacks with multiple years of starting experience. The only player remaining on the team with real experience at cornerback is Howard, and he played like it this spring. Though he has yet to officially win the starting spot as the top corner for the Buckeyes, Howard had perhaps the most impressive spring of any player. The defense is looking for playmakers and Howard seemed poised to take that next step for Ohio State.
Curtis Grant, LB - Perhaps the biggest stud in Ohio State's most recent recruiting class was Grant and many expect the freshman to come in and contribute right away. Grant, the only 5-star recruit in the Buckeyes' 2011 recruiting class, has yet to step on campus but it is possible he could figure in immediately. The Buckeyes are looking for someone to step up at strongside linebacker, and with the year-long suspension of Dorian Bell, that just gives Grant one less person to compete with. He may not crack the starting rotation as a freshman, but look for this talented linebacker to come in and make a statement.
Johnathan Hankins, DT - With the departures of Dexter Larimore and Cameron Heyward the Buckeyes took a big hit on the defensive line. However, it looks as if big Hankins is ready to take on a bigger role than just coming in for a play at a time. Nobody thought Hankins would be anywhere near ready in his freshman season, but the big defensive tackle was almost immovable when he came into the game. Now looking like he's in much better shape, Hankins seems to be able to play for longer periods of time. That combination should have him starting on the defensive line and he could be on track for a big season in 2011.
Joel Hale, DL - Though the Buckeyes return two starters on the defensive line in John Simon and Nathan Williams, the rotation is always long enough for new faces to come in and contribute. One of those new faces is a youngster in Hale, who came into spring football physically ready to make plays for the Buckeyes. Partaking in spring football not only helped Hale get acquainted with Ohio State's defensive scheme, but he also grabbed the attention of the defensive coaches with his immense strength. Though it may be tough for Hale to crack the starting lineup, he is certainly someone who can find his way into the lengthy Jim Heacock rotation.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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