With defensive studs like Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, and a number of others, it's easy to see why the defensive line and linebacker units are getting plenty of attention on the defensive side of the football heading into the 2015 season. The forgotten group on the defensive side of the football is the Ohio State defensive backs, but that isn't due to lack of talent.
Over the last 20 years there has been quite a line of defensive backs that have come out of Ohio State and went on to make a big impact in the NFL. Shawn Springs was taken with the third overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, and since then seven other Buckeye defensive backs have been taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Antoine Winfield, Chris Gamble, and Malcolm Jenkins are just a few of the former Buckeyes who have went on to have tremendous success at the next level.
When Urban Meyer took over as head coach of Ohio State in 2012, the defensive backfield wasn't quite at the level that it is now. During Meyer's first year at the helm the defensive backs were only able to grab 10 interceptions, but the team was still able to finish the season with a 12-0 record. While Ohio State upped their interceptions to 15 in 2013, the secondary showed plenty of holes, especially during the end of the season, when the team allowed 30 or more points to opponents in four of their last five games.
Last year saw the Ohio State secondary make a major turn in their play, registering 18 interceptions on their way to winning a national championship. Doran Grant was able to parlay a tremendous season into being taken in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft, but the rest of the secondary returns as the Buckeyes try to repeat as champions this year.
The Ohio State secondary has the talent not only now, but also coming up through the pipeline, which should make them a force to be reckoned with for the next few years at least. Eli Apple is only a redshirt sophomore, but has loads of talent, and should be able to step right in for Grant. The only thing more entertaining that Tyvis Powell's play on the field might be his Twitter feed. But the real star of the secondary right now is Vonn Bell.
On the morning of National Signing Day in 2013, Bell gave Urban Meyer's recruiting class quite a boost when the five-star prospect committed to the Buckeyes. Bell's freshman season saw him play some in nickel packages, but he really started to make a name for himself when he started in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. The Georgia native made the most of his first opportunity by making a highlight-reel interception as the Tigers were knocking on the door to score a touchdown to put them up 21-9.
Last year Bell moved into a starting role in the secondary, registering starts at safety in 14 out of the 15 games the Buckeyes played. Not only did Bell pick off six passes, but the 92 tackles he recorded were the most by a Buckeye safety since Mike Doss had 107 tackles in 2002. As the year went on, Bell's play just got better and better, intercepting passes in four of the last six games.
Much like how Bell used the interception against Clemson to set the table for a standout sophomore season, the safety is hoping the last interception he made during his sophomore year can provide the momentum for a breakout junior season. With just under 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and the Buckeyes holding on to a 34-28 lead, Ohio State was on the verge of losing the lead after they were only able to get off a 21 yard punt to give Alabama a drive start at the Ohio State 23-yard line. On the first play after the change of possession, Bell picked off Alabama quarterback Blake Sims to help Buckeye fans breathe just a little bit easier. Just over four minutes later Ezekiel Elliott broke off that infamous 85-yard touchdown run, and the rest is history.
The scary thing about Bell is that he is just a junior this year, but it feels like the sky is the limit for this tremendous talent. Bell leaves little doubt when tackling, as evidence by how he was able to approach the tackling totals Mike Doss posted during the championship season of 2002. Bell also has great hands which allowed him to post such a high interception total last year. So far during his young Ohio State career, Bell has lived up to the hype which earned him a five-star rating coming out of high school. This year has all the looks of being the season when Bell really breaks out and really gets people around college football, along with pro scouts, talking about how really good he has the potential of being.