- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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Everybody is chasing the elite recruits, and championships aren't usually won unless there's a pretty impressive constellation of four- and five-star athletes on a roster.
But those guys also aren't typically solely responsible for taking a program to the next level, and it can often come down to which coaching staffs properly identify and develop the players without as much buzz coming out of high school -- or the ones intent on proving those doubts wrong at the next level.
BuckeyeNation will look at five of those players on the Ohio State roster that will be key to making a title run, all of them capable of outplaying that three-star label.
No. 4: Christian Bryant
Who: The senior safety has drawn plenty of attention for some untimely penalties and a competitive streak that he doesn't exactly hide, and that at times might overshadow the rest of his work in the secondary -- but it really shouldn't. Bryant might not be perfect on every snap or after the whistle, but he was one of the most consistent contributors all season long defensively on the way to a perfect record and has the resume to prove it heading into his last year with the program. Despite his affinity for making some noise on the field, he somewhat quietly posted the second-highest total of tackles for the Buckeyes and was also topped only by cornerback Bradley Roby in passes defended. Bryant also had a knack for creating big plays, forcing two fumbles, recovering another and also adding an interception during a campaign that sets the stage for what could be a huge senior season.
Then: There was more than enough talent on display at Glenville High School in Cleveland to make it clear Bryant could be a factor at the next level, but there were some questions about exactly how he would do it. He did some encouraging things against the pass, but he perhaps didn't have the kind of blazing speed needed to play man coverage against wide receivers all game long. Bryant brought a nasty streak when coming to support against the run and has always been able to deliver a knockout punch, but there were still a few doubts about his size at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds. The minor concerns may have kept him from potentially receiving a four-star grade, but those issues have certainly been erased as he prepares for another run as a key piece in the Ohio State starting lineup.
They said it: "Bryant is really in between a safety and a corner. He is undersized for a safety but not quite fast enough to be a corner. Very tough football player that gives excellent run support from the corner position and really lays the wood to the running back; reads the perimeter play quickly and reacts. ... He is a competitive athlete that has fine instincts and excellent reaction." -- RecruitingNation in 2010
Now: The Buckeyes have holes to fill on defense with seven starters to replace, but there's little reason for concern in the secondary thanks to Bryant, safety sidekick C.J. Barnett and Roby. Bryant has been through his share of battles after starting nine times as a sophomore and not missing a game a year ago on the way to the unbeaten record, chipping in 71 tackles from his spot in the secondary. That experience and knowledge of the defense is incredibly useful for a unit that will feature so many young faces, and if Bryant is ready to take on an expanded leadership role and perhaps cut out a penalty or two, the Buckeyes will be in good hands.