COLUMBUS – Losing seven starters off a defense would be a little daunting for any football team.
But to have to replace seven defensive starters the caliber of the seven Ohio State must replace this season is another level of intimidating.
Except that Ohio State isn’t worried about it. At least not publicly.
Defensive co-coordinator Luke Fickell talked about a standard being set at Ohio State that players were expected to strive to reach after a recent practice. Linebacker Chis Worley echoed that sentiment and talked about a bar being set and not lowered.
Seven of the 12 Ohio State players selected in this year’s NFL draft were defensive players.
Three of them – Joey Bosa (San Diego), cornerback Eli Apple (New York Giants) and linebacker Darron Lee (New York Jets) were taken in the first round. Safety Vonn Bell (New Orleans Saints) was picked in the second round. Defensive tackle Adolphus Washington (Buffalo) was a third-rounder and linebacker Joshua Perry (San Diego) was chosen in the fourth round.
Led by those players, Ohio State ranked second nationally in scoring defense (15.1 points a game) and ninth in overall defense (311.3 yards a game).
So, the bar has been set at an elite level. Whether OSU can reach that elite level defensively will play out on the field over the next few months and could be a major factor in what kind of season the Buckeyes have.
Three starters and another player who was a significant part of last year’s defense are back.
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis emerged as star last season when he had eight sacks and 14 tackles despite playing the entire season with a shoulder injury. The other end, Sam Hubbard, rotated in as a sub for Lewis or Bosa and had 6.5 sacks in a part-time role.
Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, a second-team All-Big selection, and cornerback Gareon Conley, an honorable mention All-Big Ten choice, are the other returning defensive starters.
Conley is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield after Apple, Bell and Tyvis Powell left early to go to the NFL.
The rest of the defensive backfield will be athletic, fast and inexperienced.
Conley has been described as an NFL-type cornerback by coach Urban Meyer and Hooker, a safety who had two interceptions in the spring game, might be one of the best athletes on a very athletic team.
Hooker did not play football until his junior year of high school because he was a standout at basketball. Damon Webb and Cam Burrows are battling for the other safety spot and Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward are competing for the other cornerback position.
Dante Booker is the probable starter at the other linebacker position and Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle are probably in the lead to start the opener against Bowling Green on Sept. 3 at the interior defensive line positions.
While OSU is deep at defensive end with Jalyn Holmes and Nick Bosa in the backup roles currently, the interior line positions are a question mark.
Davon Hamilton or Dre’mont Jones could go around the starters at those positions, which Meyer says he is concerned about.
“I’m not comfortable yet with our interior defensive line,” he said.