While the Buckeyes return quite a few options on offense, they’ll have to replace multiple contributors on defense this year, especially in the secondary, which will be full of new faces.
An awful lot can change between now and opening day, but here’s an early stab at what the defensive two-deep might look like for next year.
Sam Hubbard (RS Junior)
Jalyn Holmes (Senior)
Who starts along the defensive line is a little bit of an academic question, since the Buckeyes will use a deep rotation of linemen to keep everybody fresh. It’s probable that many more players, including some of the highly recruited youngsters, will find time, but given the proven, established production from Hubbard and Holmes, you have to figure they keep their spots.
Dre’Mont Jones (RS Sophomore)
Jashon Cornell (RS Sophomore)
Jones wasn’t expected to step into this role to start the season, but the Buckeyes had to get creative when Tracy Sprinkle went down for a season-ending injury. All Jones did was become a Freshman All-American. His upside, at a position where Ohio State needs is, is tremendous.
We’re stepping out on a limb a little bit for Cornell, given that he’s been injured and hasn’t had a chance to produce, but he was a mega-recruit, and the potential is all there if he’s healthy. If not, look for Davon Hamilton, or true freshman Haskell Garrett, to step up here.
Tracy Sprinkle (RS Senior)
Michael Hill (RS Senior) OR Robert Landers (RS Sophomore)
This is a tricky spot. Sprinkle earned the job to start last season, but missed almost the entire campaign after a season-ending injury early in the year. Hill was effective, if not flashy, in spots, and Landers really emerged as a possible playmaker, despite being undersized, during the season. Any of these three is capable of grabbing the top spot on the depth chart, but we’ll guess Sprinkle gets the first crack at defending his old job. Everybody should play, though.
Tyquan Lewis (RS Senior)
Nick Bosa (Sophomore)
The Buckeyes truly have an embarrassment of riches at this position. Lewis was your Big Ten Lineman of the Year in 2016, and the sack leader, and he returns for another season to pad the stat sheet. Former five-star uber-recruit Nick Bosa, who flashed numerous times during his freshman year, should get additional shine this season, as it will be increasingly difficult to keep him off the field. And if either of them falter, the Buckeyes have plenty of options, like sophomore Jonathan Cooper, or true freshman and five-star Chase Young.
Jerome Baker (Junior)
Keandre Jones (Sophomore)
Baker grabbed onto this job after Dante Booker struggled with injuries in 2016, and never let go, establishing himself as an athletic and dangerous playmaker. The Buckeyes have plenty of backup options, with star recruit Jones potentially emerging from the pack.
Dante Booker (Senior)
Justin Hilliard (RS Sophomore)
Booker was slated to start last season at WLB, but was injured and gave way to Baker. He’s one of the fastest guys on the team, and should be an experienced, productive option if he’s healthy. If he’s not, the Buckeyes could turn to another former elite recruit, Justin Hilliard.
Chris Worley (RS Senior)
Baron Browning (Freshman)
Worley returns after a strong season to man the SLB position. Jones, Nick Conner, a former Spring Game star, and true freshman and five-star Baron Browning will fight for the backup role here.
Kendall Sheffield (Junior)
Damon Arnette (RS Sophomore)
The Buckeyes will badly need experience in their defensive backfield, which is why they went and picked up Sheffield, a JUCO player and former Alabama commit. JUCO players aren’t recruited unless the coaching staff thinks they can contribute right away, and Sheffield should be able to provide some stability while Ohio State’s highly touted young defensive backs can season a bit. Arnette, who was strong on special teams earlier, should be a capable backup, but if not, there are plenty of freshmen.
Denzel Ward (Junior)
Jeffrey Okudah (Freshman)
Ward will need to make a big jump from nickelback who was occasionally exposed to perhaps their lockdown corner, but Buckeye defensive backs have made big jumps over an offseason before. Ohio State has some non-freshman options here, like Joshua Norwood, but Okudah, one of the very best recruits in the entire country, is probably too good to redshirt.
Damon Webb (Senior)
Jordan Fuller (Sophomore)
Webb was picked on occasionally last season, in part because defenses were afraid to throw at virtually anybody else, but with a new year, with a new supporting cast, he could be more effective. And he’s certainly a very capable tackler. He’ll likely be spelled by Jordan Fuller, but there are other young options here too.
Erick Smith (Senior)
Isaiah Pryor (Freshman)
Smith’s career has been slowed by injures, but now the heralded recruit should be healthy, and read to step into a role where he’ll be badly needed. True freshman Isaiah Pryor could be in the mix at backup, along with sophomore Jahsen Wint.