Thursday, December 6, 2012
Year in review: DBs lend a big hand
By Austin Ward
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by looking back at the playmakers in the secondary who made a habit of breaking up passes and nabbing interceptions on the way to a perfect season.
Ohio State redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby could be a high draft pick if he leaves school early.
Most valuable player:Christian Bryant might have been underrated for the contributions he made at safety, somewhat quietly going about his business and offering a reliable presence in the backend. Travis Howard played the finest, most consistent football of his career and tied for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions. But it was redshirt sophomore Bradley Roby who was the indispensable member of the secondary, transforming himself from a talented but easily distracted cover guy into an elite competitor over the last 12 months -- and developing into a potential high-round draft pick in the process.
By the numbers: For most of the season, the one game Roby missed with a sore shoulder didn't keep him from maintaining his spot atop the national leaderboard in passes defended. But without getting a hand on the football in the rivalry win over Michigan to close out the year and not getting a chance to play in the Big Ten title game, Roby's impressive total of 19 combined breakups and interceptions over 11 games didn't hold up as No. 1 in the country -- he had to simply settle for second.
Best moment: Anxious for a breakthrough and his first interception of the season five weeks into the schedule, Roby called his shot three days before the Buckeyes hosted Nebraska in a primetime showdown. He backed up his prediction that he'd pick off a pass just more than six minutes into the game, nabbing a pass from Taylor Martinez and returning it 41 yards for a go-ahead touchdown that only dialed up the energy at Ohio Stadium. Just for good measure, the confident cornerback added another interception in the second quarter to prove it wasn't a fluke and double down on his pre-game guarantee.
Preseason question: Can Roby and Howard form the best combination in the Big Ten?
Postseason answer: Both players had certain aspects of their games they had to shore up to prove any skeptics wrong and actually become the top tandem of cornerbacks in the league. There wasn't much question about Roby's talent, but he had to become more focused on every snap and not let his attention wander against receivers he didn't really perceive as a threat to beat him. Howard was coming off an inconsistent season and seemingly hadn't completely won over the coaching staff heading into training camp. But Roby was able to become a better competitor and embraced the mental part of the game and Howard battled through injuries to pick off four passes and carry his weight on the other side of the field, giving the Buckeyes a strong case they had the best one-two punch in the Big Ten.
Looking ahead: Howard and nickel safety Orhian Johnson will have to be replaced, but those are manageable losses for the Buckeyes. Bryant and fellow safety C.J. Barnett will both be back next season as seniors, and Doran Grant has flashed his talent at times in a limited role off the bench at cornerback. But the strength of the secondary will be determined soon when Roby makes a decision about his future. If the draft-eligible, redshirt sophomore elects to leave for the NFL, that's a hole that won't be easily filled by anybody. If he stays, though, Roby could have a chance to compete for a national title and send his pro stock even higher. When Roby makes up his mind, the Buckeyes will have a much better idea what lies ahead in the secondary.