- Austin Ward, College Football
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.
Who's back: The Buckeyes will lead from the back, with both experience and leadership expected to provide a trickle-down effect for the defense with Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett returning for one more season together as the starting tandem at safety. Ohio State even has a veteran waiting in line to come off the bench and potentially help in the nickel package with senior Corey Brown providing yet another old hand as the program reloads in front of the secondary. There will be six new starters in the front seven and one more at cornerback, but the Buckeyes are as stable as they possibly could be at the back of the defense with Bryant and Barnett poised to close their careers on a high note.
New face: The huge target the Buckeyes officially landed on national signing day won't be around to add depth or potentially crack into the rotation until fall practice, though there's already plenty of buzz building about what Vonn Bell could provide in the secondary when he arrives. The athletic, 6-foot-1, 190-pounder should be walking into a situation without the pressure that can come from having to contribute a whole lot right away thanks to the presence of those talented seniors -- though coach Urban Meyer will likely be counting on them to get Bell up to speed as well.
Projected spring depth chart: Bryant and Barnett will be back in their familiar spots, with Brown currently the favorite to be the first man up in the nickel package and a valuable option in reserve. The Buckeyes were bitterly disappointed to watch rising sophomore Devan Bogard's first season with the program end with a knee injury last fall, but he figures to be in the mix for work at some point, and classmates Tyvis Powell and Najee Murray could offer something as well.
Numbers game: Barnett was slowed by a nagging ankle injury for part of the season, but when he and Bryant were on the field together, the production was hard to miss. The two combined for 127 tackles, three takedowns for a loss, three interceptions, 21 passes defended, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Barnett missed three games and took some time to shake the rust off after that as well, but there's plenty of evidence of how effective those two safeties can be in the back end.
One to watch: The clock is ticking for Brown, and there will be more competition for his job heading into fall camp,with Bell leading the charge. The Buckeyes already have some sophomores on campus capable of pushing the veteran for playing time, and Brown will certainly need to make an impression with his existing knowledge of the defense and a higher level of consistency than he's shown in his few opportunities to contribute over the last couple years. Departed senior Orhian Johnson proved how important it was to have a reliable upperclassman ready to complement Bryant and Barnett, and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers will be watching closely to see if he's got another one he can count on when the season rolls around.
He said it: "I've been doing this a long time, but this group with the young men that are [already] here in [cornerbacks] Eli Apple and Cam Burrows and the guys we just added to that group -- if the development goes as we think it will go, we feel like this is a very talented group which should be able to help Ohio State do special things." -- Withers on signing day
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice.