Urban Meyer admitted this spring that the Ohio State Buckeyes have a “void of leadership” on defense that will have to be sorted out before the season starts next fall. That’s understandable when you consider that Ohio State lost its entire defensive line and six of its starting front seven players from their perfect 12-0 team of a year ago. That leaves the onus on the secondary, which returns three starters next season, to not only lead the defense but also to cover up any of the shortcomings that the defense may suffer as they get the new guys up to speed.
Luckily for Meyer and the Buckeyes, they have an excellent trio back there to keep everything together. Safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett are both three-year starters and cornerback Bradley Roby was an All-American in 2012. The group has embraced their roles as leaders of the defense even though they are playing way off the ball on most plays and are looking to put together their best seasons yet.
Bryant finished 2012 as the No. 2 leading tackler on the team, finishing the year with 70 tackles while breaking up 12 passes, forcing two fumbles and intercepting a pass. He was all over the field in coverage a year ago and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts. Coaches will ask more from him in 2013, specifically in his ability to generate turnovers. While he has been a presence in breaking up passes, he has just one career interception.
Barnett, meanwhile, has shown slightly better ball skills than Bryant, coming into his senior season with four career interceptions. He struggled with some injuries in 2012, playing in just nine games, but he still finished fourth on the team with 56 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, with two interceptions and six passes broken up. His 6.2 tackles per game average ranked second on the team behind only linebacker Ryan Shazier, the only returning player in the front seven.
Roby, meanwhile, flourished on an island last season, racking up 62 tackles (good for No. 3 on the team) and was a major playmaker in multiple phases of the game. He had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown, along with a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown and a blocked punt that he scooped up and scored with. He finished the year with 17 pass breakups, but admits that he played selfishly as a sophomore and has embraced his role a team leader in 2013.
The Buckeyes may not return a large quantity of starters on their defense next season, but the ones they are getting back are high quality, particularly in the secondary. Will their leadership on the field be enough to keep the Buckeyes’ defense together and propel Ohio State to another perfect season?