COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State begins the season Thursday when the Buckeyes take on Minnesota on the road at 8 p.m.
Below is a look at a two-deep projected depth chart for the Buckeyes defense.
Starters: Haskell Garrett, Antwuan Jackson
Backups: Jerron Cage, Taron Vincent
This isn’t a backup and starter situation. All four players will rotate frequently with Cage and Jackson playing nose tackle while Garrett and Vincent play defensive tackle. Garrett is set to be one of the best defensive linemen in the country this season, but don’t be surprised when Vincent comes onto the scene. Injuries derailed the first three years of Vincent’s career, but the second-best defensive tackle in the class of 2018 is finally feeling healthy and should be a force upfront.
Jackson played in all eight games last season and rotated in with Tommy Togiai while Cage has waited patiently for his opportunity entering his fifth and final year with the Buckeyes.
Starters: Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith
Backups: Javontae Jean-Baptiste, J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer
OSU is once again stacked at defensive end with seniors Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste as well as Olentangy Orange grad Zach Harrison, who returns for his junior year. All three are primed for their best season yet, along with true freshman Jack Sawyer from Pickerington and J.T. Tuimoloau, the highest-rated defensive recruit in OSU history. Both freshmen will see playing time, especially with Tyler Friday expected to miss most if not all of the season with an undisclosed injury.
Starters: Teradja Mitchell, Cody Simon
Backups: K’Vaughan Pope, Dallas Gant, Tommy Eichenberg
Ohio State will not use a traditional three-linebacker scheme this season, partly because of how many players it lost.
Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, and K’Vaughan Pope will be the senior leaders in this group and the players who return with the most game experience. Only one of those players can start at outside linebacker in this system and that will be captain Mitchell, but expect Gant and Pope to get plenty of playing time as well.
Anchoring the defense at inside linebacker will be a pair of sophomores in Cody Simon and Tommy Eichenberg, who have played in four games combined. There will be growing pains in the middle of OSU’s defense, but the talent upfront should help them ease into the starting role.
Another linebacker to keep an eye out for is USC transfer Palaie Gaoteote who is still awaiting an eligibility ruling from the NCAA as he continues to pay his own way at Ohio State.
Starter: Josh Proctor
Backup: Marcus Hooker
The Buckeyes have used a single-high safety the past few years and will continue to do so in 2021. Josh Proctor will return in the starting role and Marcus Hooker also returns after a tumultuous offseason, which included another OVI charge.
Starter: Marcus Williamson
Backups: Lathan Ransom, Cameron Martinez
Marcus Williamson was OSU’s go-to slot cornerback in 2020 and also played some strong safety in the playoffs. Williamson will once again be relied upon as a cover safety but will split time with sophomore Lathan Ransom, who put on an impressive performance against Clemson in the CFP semifinals. Former quarterback turned defensive back Cameron Martinez will have chances as well after having a full offseason to adjust to the position that defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs believes he was meant to play.
Starter: Craig Young
Backups: Ronnie Hickman, Kourt Williams II
Ohio State is introducing a ‘bullet’ safety position as well that was described by junior Ronnie Hickman, who will be one of several Buckeyes who can play in that role.
“I guess [it’s like] an athletic DB who can stop the run and also cover,” Hickman said. “I think it fits my style of play, my athleticism, so I’m very excited about it and so are all the other guys in the room.”
It’s really a guess as to who will start that position because it will be used on a rotation between Hickman, Young, and freshman Kourt Williams II, depending on down and distance as well as what look the opposing offense presents to the defense throughout a game.
Young wouldn’t normally play in a defensive back position given his 6’3″, 223-pound frame, but he can be pulled into the box and also cover in space against faster slot receivers, which is something Ohio State struggled mightily with against Alabama in the national championship.
Starters: Sevyn Banks, Cam Brown
Backups: Lejond Cavazos, Denzel Burke, Ryan Watts
Don’t expect Ohio State’s cornerbacks to struggle as much as they did last year. Coombs had spring and fall camps to get everyone on the same page and two of those players include veterans Sevyn Banks and Cam Brown who suffered a season-ending injury when he tore his Achilles against Penn State in OSU’s second game. Coombs even admitted the Buckeyes took a step backward when Brown went down and now he returns along with the emergence of redshirt freshmen Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts along with true freshman Denzel Burke.