Defensive Back Preview
Although most of the focus this offseason has been placed on the team replacing the trio of star linebackers, the secondary is probably even an issue of much greater intigue -- and concern -- for the Buckeyes. Compared the secondary, our linebackers look like seasoned veterans. But, too keep this section as optimistic as possible (even though it may not always be that way at times this season), there is still tons of potential back there. Let's take a look, shall we?
Projected starting cornerbacks:
Malcolm Jenkins (6-1, 202 pounds) So.
It seems like with every recruiting class that Ohio State gets, there is always at least one guy who was overlooked by most other big name colleges, but somehow managed to get an offer from OSU and come in and make an impact right away as a true freshman. In 2002 there was AJ Hawk, in 2003 we had Steve Rehring, and finally in '04 the Buckeyes were blessed with the hidden talent of Malcolm Jenkins. When Jenkins reported to fall camp, he was nowhere to be found on the depth chart, but as the season wore on, Jenkins impressed the coaching staff so much that he was able to work his way up to being the team's nickleback, and when Tyler Everett went down, he was thrust into a starting role. All Jenkins did was shutdown receivers from the get go, and earn the label as the "next" great OSU D-Back. He may not be the fastest corner out there, but his size makes him one of the best in bump-and-run and aggressive coverages. Don't be fooled though: he is deceptively fast and can stick with receivers as well as the next guy.
Antonio Smith (5-9, 195 pounds) RS-Sr.
When I mentioned that Malcolm Jenkins came out of nowhere to become a starter for the Buckeyes, I wasn't being fair to Antonio Smith at all. Smith never garnered any attention from the Buckeye coaches when he was coming out of high school, and he really didn't get much anywhere else, either. He is this team's "feel good story." Antonio Smith was a walk on player, who didn't do much of anything his first four seasons here outside of special teams work until this past spring, when he burst on to the scene to show the coaches just what he is capable of. He did so well, in fact, that he earned a scholarship from the coaches, one that could have been used elsewhere to help build for the future. Now, Smith is listed as the team's #2 corner, but really his role on the team will be much more important. Due to the overall lack of playing experience in the secondary, we could be seeing much more zone coverages than we're used to, which means Smith will see time guarding the opposition's top receiver.
Projected starting safeties:
Nick Patterson (6-2, 210 pounds) RS-So.
The free safety position will be one to watch closely this season. Although Patterson is listed as the team's starter on the depth chart, that doesn't mean he'll be in the game all the time. One of the most notable position battles of the offseason was at FS, where Patterson has been dueling it out with redshirt Senior Brandon Mitchell for quite some time now. In my honest opinion, I do feel that Mitchell should have won the starting job, because this team need's all the playing experience it can get back here, and Mitchell saw a ton of time backing up Nate Salley last season. Actually, two seasons ago, Mitchell was listed above Salley in the team's depth chart before the season started, but then injuries caused him to lose his job. But then again, I'm not a coach, and I don't see the two play every single day, so I'm hoping that Tressel sees something special in Patterson to put him above a senior on the depth chart (A rarity in Tresselball).
Jamario O'Neal (6-1, 200 pounds) So.
In the MLB, teams usually build winners with their farm systems. They call one guy up, and when his run with the team comes to an end, the team just calls up another guy from the same team to replace him. Well, it's funny how things work out that way in college football. Donte Whitner was a star in high school for Ohio State's "Farm Team," the Cleveland Glenville Tarblooders, and now that he has moved on, he is being replaced by another former star Tarblooder in O'Neal. O'Neal came out of high school as the #3 cornerback prospect in the nation, and the #2 overall prospect in Ohio (in case you were wondering, our starting tackle, Alex Boone was the #1 prospect). He was said to have game speed that challenged former high school teammate Ted Ginn's, but his hard hitting ability and the team's depth at CB at the time caused the coaches to move him to safety, where he will still be a heavy factor in covering speedy wideouts in the slot, but will also be able to step up and support the run. As a football player, O'Neal has all the tools to become the total-package, but only time will tell if he will be able to put it all together like his high school teammates Ted Ginn and Troy Smith, or if he will just fade into the crowd and be demoted to a special-teamer.
Players to watch out for:
Kurt Coleman, FR. - Coleman was the third member of the '06 recruiting class to report to the team in the Spring, and like the other two, he is almost guaranteed to see some playing time this year. He has great hands for a cornerback, as was seen in the Spring game and Jersey scrimmage in which he got an interception in both games.
Brandon Mitchell , RS-Sr. - I talked about Mitchell earlier, but I'm putting him down here just so you know a little more about him. He is an excellent student of the game with the experience that our secondary currently lacks. I honestly see no reason why he shouldn't be starting, unless Patterson is on the verge of a breakout year, which very well may be the case.
Anderson Russell, RS-Fr. - Barring injury, Russell probably won't see too much time outside of special teams. If he is forced to come in, his role will probably be diminished from that of Super Jamario's, just due to the fact that he's probably not as good and athlete as O'Neal.