The defensive secondary is the last thing standing between an opposing offense and the end zone and the safeties are a smaller subset of that last line. Luckily for Ohio State, the safety position is the one unit on the defensive side of the ball where both starters are returning and both starters are absolute machines.
The luxury of not having to replace the leadership in the unit is one that Coach Everett Withers is not likely to rest his laurels on. The two starters, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett had all of 3 interceptions between them in the 2012 campaign, a number that is less than desirable. Both are three year starters, and with the departure of Orhian Johnson to the NFL, they are the senior leadership in the defensive backfield.
The defense will lean heavily on these two gentlemen, as well as Senior Cornerback Bradley Roby, to lead them to the promised land. Barnett is looking to have his best year yet and position himself to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL draft, as some are already projecting. To do that, he’ll need to display the same tenacity and ball hawking skills that were evident through most of the 2012 season, when he had 6 passes broken up to go along with his two interceptions.
But Barnett is not the kind of player who is content to sit back and let the ballcarrier come to him. Rather, as you can see in this short clip from the 2012 game against the University of Central Florida, the senior is no stranger to laying the lumber on someone.
If you’re an opposing wide receiver or tight end, looking at that game film has to make you shiver and look over your shoulders at all times just to make sure that Barnett isn’t about to blast you out of your socks while you walk to class one day. It is that kind of smash mouth mentality that Coach Urban Meyer is looking for in his players and with John Simon off to the next level, Barnett and Linebacker Ryan Shazier are the two defensive players that will give opposing offensive coordinators fits and nightmares for weeks.
However, the secondary is not all about Barnett and Roby. Christian Bryant, when you look at the raw numbers, had a better year than Barnett, recording 12 PBUs and 2 forced fumbles. While he had but one interception on the year, it was probably the most important one of the year. Against the Golden Bears of California, with just over a minute left in the game, the Bucks up by a touchdown, Cal QB Zach Maynard was driving his team down the field as he had done all Saturday long.
But as you’ll see, Bryant was having none of it. Spying the quarterback, the senior stepped neatly into the passing lane, snagged the pass, and took it back 38 yards to effectively end the game and keep Ohio State’s early winning streak going for another week.
The trust fund kiddies at Pappy’s Grill and Sports Bar were none too happy that day, and my rejoicing and utter elation when Bryant nabbed that interception probably didn’t help too much. That interception against Cal wasn’t the only game ending play that Bryant facilitated in 2012 either. Many of you might remember him being the one to deflect the last ditch effort by Wisconsin’s [insert transfer QB name here] to end the overtime period and brought the Buckeyes back home to Columbus with a record of 11-0 heading into Hate Week.
While Bryant and Barnett will likely get a vast majority of the snaps this fall, be on the lookout for Freshman phenom Tyvis Powell to make his name known to the Buckeye faithful. Currently working in the Nickelback, or Star position, Powell has the size to make that transition to safety in the future, possibly as soon as this season or next.
Regardless of who is back there, they will have to be on their toes. Opposing teams are likely to attempt to avoid throwing the ball near Roby, so the safeties and likely starting corner Doran Grant will have to be at the top of their game if they want to earn a trip to Pasadena after January 1st.