Ohio State Buckeyes 2-deep defensive depth chart

Sports

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.

Defensive Tackles

Starters: Haskell Garrett, Antwuan Jackson

Backups: Jerron Cage, Taron Vincent

Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett, left, scores against Michigan State’s Tre Mosley after deflecting and catching a Michigan State pass in the end zone during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

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.

Defensive Ends

Starters: Zach Harrison, Tyreke Smith

Backups: Javontae Jean-Baptiste, J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer

COLUMBUS, OH – NOVEMBER 21: Zach Harrison #9 of the Ohio State Buckeyes breaks up a pass attempt by Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Indiana Hoosiers in the first quarter at Ohio Stadium on November 21, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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.

Linebackers

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.

Free Safety

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.

Slot Safety

Starter: Marcus Williamson

Backups: Lathan Ransom, Cameron Martinez

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 01: Amari Rodgers #3 of the Clemson Tigers attempts to catch a pass over Lathan Ransom #12 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the fourth quarter during the College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 01, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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.

Bullet Safety

Starter: Craig Young

Backups: Ronnie Hickman, Kourt Williams II

COLUMBUS, OH – APRIL 17: Miyan Williams #28 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the ball as Craig Young #15 moves in for the tackle during the Spring Game at Ohio Stadium on April 17, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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.

Cornerbacks

Starters: Sevyn Banks, Cam Brown

Backups: Lejond Cavazos, Denzel Burke, Ryan Watts

EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN – DECEMBER 05: Sevyn Banks #7 of the Ohio State Buckeyes tries to intercept a pass next to Jalen Nailor #8 of the Michigan State Spartans during the first half at Spartan Stadium on December 05, 2020 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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.

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