- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The final chapter hasn't been written yet for Ohio State's senior class, and a handful of Buckeyes have a chance to author something pretty memorable. This week, we'll be looking at five players with a chance to leave a legacy with the program with one more productive season, what kind of impact they might have this fall and how they might be viewed down the road.
So far: There hasn't been all that much individual acclaim for Bryant, a Cleveland native, despite holding down a starting job for the last two seasons. The hard-hitting, ball-hawking safety still won't be the centerpiece even among defensive backs heading into his final campaign with the Buckeyes. But if cornerback Bradley Roby commands the spotlight and offensive players with higher profiles generate headlines, Bryant has already proven that his quieter contributions are invaluable for Ohio State as he steadily racks up tackles while chipping in some turnovers in the process. And while Bryant can often go overlooked even while finishing third on the team in tackles in one season and second the next, he isn't opposed to making a little noise with both his physical play and his mouth, occasionally crossing the line and earning some unwanted attention from officials. But those same traits help make him a popular guy in the locker room, and he's in line for a prized leadership role as his time with the Buckeyes winds down.
Numbers to date: 149 tackles, 21 passes defended, three forced fumbles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a tackle for a loss.
Record chasing: Cracking the program's top 20 in tackles isn't entirely out of reach, though it would certainly be a stretch for Bryant to come up with the 119 hits needed to find his way onto that all-time list -- particularly after finishing second on the team a year ago with 70 tackles. But even if Bryant doesn't end up with any career records, if he stays healthy he will at least leave Ohio State as one of the more productive defenders during his time on campus. He's currently second among active players in tackles, passes broken up and forced fumbles, and he could conceivably wind up starting 36 times before moving on from the Buckeyes.
What's next: The strength of the Ohio State defense is in the backfield, and it won't hesitate to lean on the secondary this fall with experienced, talented veterans such as Bryant in order to supply stability. Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Roby offer the kind of steady, sometimes spectacular, play that should help the Buckeyes survive some potential growing pains in the front seven, where six new starters will be breaking into the lineup. That nucleus will be complemented by a deep group of athletic youngsters who have already been taken under the wings of the upperclassmen, and with a heavy dose of nickel and dime packages expected to be deployed, there should be plenty of chances for Bryant to lead by example as well.
Crystal ball: If Bryant can get his hands on a few more passes and actually keep them locked on for a few interceptions, his stock will go up dramatically and enhance his reputation as a playmaker in the secondary. But even if that doesn't happen and he simply churns out another solid season similar to the one a year ago, his contributions for a team that went undefeated and his long stay in the starting lineup shouldn't be overlooked. A handful of interceptions and another big year for the team as a whole, though, and the conversation about the mark he made with Ohio State might extend beyond just his era.
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