Since the spring game is fast approaching (unbelievably enough) this will be the last entry in "Exploring the Depths", appropriately enough deep diving on the makeup of the Buckeyes' 2013 football depth chart. The defensive back positions are one of the strongest, most veteran-laden units on the team and should be a linchpin of the 2013 OSU D.
It starts and ends with Bradley Roby, the latest in a long, long line of shutdown Buckeye cornerbacks across the past three decades. Roby could have left for greener pastures in the NFL but instead decided to stay for what most pundits are saying will be one more year in order to ostensibly help the Buckeyes win a national title. With Travis Howard and his island departing for the NFL, it was imperative for the success of the defense that Roby stayed for his redshirt junior year. Roby is an incredibly instinctive player who has a nose for the ball, can break up passes without interfering, and doesn't hesitate to make a hard tackle on a sweep or outside run if necessary. He'll need to work on his hands, but his coverage skills are A+. He is the cornerstone (pardon the pun) of not only the defensive backfield but literally the entire defense.
By now you're all aware of Bradley Roby and his exploits, but the safeties will be equally important. Last year the defense still struggled at times to get themselves into the proper positions to make plays, and the loss of off-the-bench leader Orhian Johnson will certainly increase the pressure on starters Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett. Bryant and Barnett are both instinctive players who are risk-takers and are boom-or-bust players. The two seniors will be starters but could be in jeopardy of yielding some playing time if they don't play as expected during the spring or the season. Bryant is the "better" player and flashes more on tape, but Barnett is more depended on to be the leader and is a bit more steady than his counterpart at strong safety.
The "Star" position is one of Urban Meyer's favorites and is a holdover from the Tressel days. Tyvis Powell has been the biggest surprise of spring camps and has earned lots of respect and praise from Urban Meyer. The redshirt freshman is a strapping 6'3, 201 lbs and has impressed in the early going. He is a candidate to if not technically "start" per se, then at least compete for playing time when Ohio State goes to its nickel set. Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown is another player that has been singled out for leadership by Meyer and is expected to compete with Powell for on-field time. Right now, the position is really down to Powell and Brown to see who starts the spring game in nickel situations.
Behind Roby, there is a second cornerback spot that must be filled by the time the season starts. Doran Grant appears to be the next man up to fill that position right now, but he has some competition. Grant has the most experience, with a year of solid playing time under his belt. The rising junior and Akron native made 19 tackles last year, along with a sack and an interception. Grant and the aforementioned Roby are twins in stature, but Grant is more physical and less polished in his technique. Grant is more likely to end up with the job, but Adam Griffin (Archie's son) will push him for that spot. The 5'9, 183 lb redshirt junior was not highly rated but seems to be around the ball when he gets playing time. However, it looks like Griffin's contributions will be largely on special teams or in a multiple-corner formation.
The recruiting class certainly brought in some potential superstars. Five-stars Vonn Bell (safety) and Eli Apple (corner) will push the veterans for playing time. Apple is the most likely to see the field early, especially since the rangy freshman was an early enrollee and that usually pays dividends. Gareon Conley and Cameron Burrows (another early enrollee) are less-heralded but still four-star prospects who will provide depth. Safety and Toledo native Jayme Thompson, athlete Christopher Worley, and New Albany native son Darron Lee round out the class and could be considered for either predominately special team duties or possible redshirts.
Depth players at the corner position include Armani Reeves, Najee Murray (who received some shine last year in mop-up duty before going down with a season ending injury) and walk-on Nik Sarac. For the safeties, Devan Bogard and Ron Tanner will provide special teams stardom, along with Russell Doup and former kicker-turned-safety Kevin Niehoff. Niehoff may have some usable skills as well, and don't be surprised to see him in mop-up duty as well if necessary and if the freshman safeties redshirt.
A quick shout-out to the special teamers: Drew Basil is listed as a K/P, which is interesting but not exactly surprising considering the last-minute flip of Johnny Townsend to Florida. Kyle Clinton and Tim Scott are listed as kickers on the roster, but the main competition to Basil will be Jake Russell, a sophomore punter from Twinsburg. However, most observers expect Basil to pull double duty this year. At long snapper, Bryce Haynes will continue his duties as a redshirt sophomore, and George Makridis will back him up.