August 9, 2013

Secondary leadership comes first

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Through the first few days of fall camp, Urban Meyer had plenty of things to be unsure about. His team's depth at linebacker and offensive line, the development of a highly-touted freshman class, and the improvement of the Ohio State passing game all came to mind when the second-year Buckeyes head coach was asked what he was concerned about after OSU's third practice of the 2013 season.

But far from Meyer's worries is the leadership in his secondary.

A three-year growth process will come to an end this season, with safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett each entering their third season as starters for the Buckeyes. For a team looking to replace seven starters and four captains on the defensive ball, the presence of the experienced safety duo could prove to be invaluable for an Ohio State team with national championship aspirations.

"I like the leadership in the backend of our defense. That's a Christian Bryant, that's a C.J. Barnett," Meyer said. "I'm real pleased with that."

A product of Cleveland's Glenville High School, Bryant has earned a reputation for being one of the more vocal leaders on the Buckeyes defense, as well as one of its top performers. The 5-foot-10, 192-pounder recorded 70 tackles in 2012, in addition to defending 12 passes.

Following Wednesday's practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Bryant didn't dispute the idea that his position group would play a key role in the development of the OSU defense.

"All of the older guys in the secondary are just trying to do a good job of leading the young guys," Bryant said. "We're just trying to do a great job of leading the defense right now vocally and just leading by example."

With a number of young defenders -- particularly in the secondary -- expected to be counted on this season, even a bigger premium has been placed on Bryant and Barnett's leadership. Armani Reeves, Devan Bogard, Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell, and Chris Worley each possess fewer than two years of experience at the college level and could be called upon to play roles in the OSU lineup.

A fifth-year senior from Dayton, Ohio, Barnett said that both he and Bryant feel an extra sense of responsibility to have their younger teammates ready to play.

"It's on our shoulders," Barnett said. "It's a duty for us. We've got to stand up to the challenge. Everybody is going to be looking to us."

According to Ohio State safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers, the impact of Barnett and Bryant -- as well as fifth-year safety Corey Brown -- won't be limited to just the Buckeyes safeties, but will extend to the rest of the OSU defense and roster. The Buckeyes will be breaking in at least three sophomore starters this season in Joshua Perry, Adolphus Washington, and Noah Spence, and will look to the backend of the defense for the leadership that the likes of John Simon and Etienne Sabino provided last year.

"It's really important that they show leadership, not just in the defense room but throughout our football team -- that they help us with our young guys," Withers said. "The Ohio State way, they know it."

After a 12-0 season that Meyer attributed to the leadership of his senior class, Bryant and Barnett have become two of the faces of a team that enters the season ranked second overall in the first USA Today coaches poll. Withers admitted that he's leaning on his experienced duo more than most players on the OSU roster, as the team is more aware than ever of the type of impact that they could have.

"It's important that their leadership comes out," Withers said. "We had great leadership last year and you saw where it got us."


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