- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The announcement was still fresh in mind, barely more than 24 hours old as Urban Meyer reported for the first meeting of the day.
Saturday night’s win over Wisconsin was creeping into Sunday morning when the Ohio State coach walked to a podium he would soon smack after revealing star safety Christian Bryant had been lost for the season with a broken ankle, and it was still early on Monday when his staff met at 7 a.m. to talk about replacing him.
The emotions might still have been raw given Bryant’s importance as more than just a tenacious tackler thanks to the vocal leadership and veteran leadership he provided the Buckeyes in the secondary. But there was nothing Meyer could do to change the fact that Bryant was no longer a part of the plan for trying to stop No. 16 Northwestern on the road this week, and finding somebody to fill that void will stay at the top of the agenda until No. 4 Ohio State finds its best option.
“This is not an easy one,” Meyer said. “Last year, I would have put my hands all over that, because I didn't really know [safeties coach] Everett Withers very well. But he's an excellent football coach, and when we met this morning, I wanted opinions [from the entire staff], and I'm going to give mine.
“And we are going to meet again at 2 o'clock and I want to hear what they are going to do.”
After all that brainstorming, the Buckeyes don’t necessarily need to have identified a permanent solution, but they will need to settle on somebody to line up in Bryant’s spot at safety when they hit the practice field on Tuesday afternoon.
The list has already been whittled to three defensive backs, with Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown the most likely candidate given his experience and some consistent production already this season from his role in the dime package. But nickel safety Tyvis Powell is also a potential target for a starting role in the base formation, and talented true freshman Vonn Bell also gave the Buckeyes something to consider during those conversations on Monday.
But whoever ultimately emerges and takes over Bryant’s job moving forward, the shoes are going to be extremely difficult to fill -- and there isn’t going to be much time to get used to wearing them either.
“This is a very complicated offense,” Meyer said. “It’s one that's going to require [good communication], and one of the disappointing things we had last Saturday was not just a couple guys got beat, but we had some errors in checks and communication.
“We can't have that, and with that position open now, that's a big part of it.”
Brown’s familiarity with the system alongside fellow veteran defensive backs Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett might give him the edge to claim that spot, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs indicated the senior would likely be getting the first crack at it.
Brown had actually been nipping at Bryant’s heels statistically so far this season, with Bryant only leading Brown by one tackle through five games. And Brown had also chipped in a tackle for a loss and broken up a pass, showing signs of the type of versatility the Buckeyes crave in the secondary.
Bryant, though, has set a high standard for stuffing the box score in a variety of different ways, and at least from an on-field perspective, Coombs and the rest of the defensive staff will be watching closely early in the week to make sure they find somebody capable of providing some similar production across the board.
“I think as we sit here this afternoon that Pitt Brown will go in there and play,” Coombs said. “I don’t know exactly the configuration of how all those guys are going to fit going into the week, and some of that will be developed and discussed during practice.
“But our guys, those are versatile players back there and I think that gets understated somewhat.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of Bryant has been overstated. But all the coaches can do now is show up for their early meetings and work on a new plan.
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