Ohio State football: Breaking down defensive depth chart heading into 2021 season

Ohio State has some experience on defense, but lots of jobs are open this offseason.

In some cases that is because of graduations, while some returning veterans could find themselves in a battle to remain starters.

The Silver Bullets have struggled two of the last three seasons, leading to questions about the scheme and the talent on hand.

Who claims some of the open spots could alter what type of strategies the coaching staff turns to.

Here is a look at who is returning and who could climb the depth chart this spring and in the preseason:

Defensive end

Returning starter: Tyreke Smith

Favorite to break into the starting lineup: Zach Harrison

Also in contention: Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Noah Potter, Darrion Henry-Young, Cormontae Hamilton, Jack Sawyer

Smith showed some signs of breaking out toward the end of the season, and Harrison finished just off the team lead with 4.5 tackles for loss.

Friday and Jean-Baptiste have both started games and been regular parts of the rotation at times.

That gives coach Larry Johnson a solid two-deep even before he gets a first-hand look at Sawyer, the highest-rated member of the newest OSU recruiting class.

Defensive tackle

Returning starter: Haskell Garrett

Favorites to break into the starting lineup: Jerron Cage, Antwuan Jackson or Taron Vincent

Also in contention: Ty Hamilton, Jaden McKenzie, Jacolbe Cowan, Tyliek Williams

Cage started the National Championship Game with Tommy Togiai sidelined, and he could be ready to live up to his four-star recruit billing.

Jackson is taking advantage of the extra year offer by the NCAA while Vincent is hoping to be able to stay healthy to show why he was also a touted prospect.


Returning starter: None

Favorites to break into the lineup: Dallas Gant (MLB), K’Vaughan Pope (SAM), Teradja Mitchell (WLB)

Also in contention: Craig Young, Tommy Eichenberg, Cody Simon, Mitchell Melton and Reid Carrico

Linebackers coach Al Washington will have new starters at every spot this season, but his top candidates are all seniors so he shouldn’t have to worry about maturity with this group.

Gant is the returning leading tackler for the entire team with 44 stops in his career.

Young is an intriguing athlete prospect, as is Carrico, a true freshman from Ironton who enrolled early.

The middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker spots are similar to each other, but how they Buckeyes us the other outside ‘backer remains to be seen. At times the past two years, the “SAM” linebacker has been asked to do a lot of things a safety would do, but that is only likely to continue if someone displays the athleticism to handle it.

Redshirt freshman Kourt Williams could be an option at SAM, too. He signed as a defensive back but is listed 6-foot-1, 221 pounds and could have the athleticism to play coverage and size to hold up against the run.


Returning starters: Sevyn Banks (cornerback), Marcus Williamson (safety) and Josh Proctor (safety)

Favorites to break into the starting lineup: Everyone else

After a down year for the secondary, everyone would seem to be in the mix for playing time, and it is uncertain if anyone’s role is safe.

Banks was solid as a first-year starter at one corner, and Cam Brown could fill the other spot when he returns from a leg injury.

Ohio State is still waiting for five-star prospect Tyreke Johnson to live up to his billing on a consistent basis after three years while redshirt freshmen Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts would like to make up for a mostly lost year before incoming freshman stake their claim to a spot in the cornerback rotation.

Williamson and Proctor both had their ups and downs as first-year starters and the last one of defense. So did Marcus Hooker, who began the season as the starter at deep safety but eventually lost that job and would like it back.

Kourt Williams, Ronnie Hickman, Cam Martinez, Bryson Shaw and Lathan Ransom could all get shots to earn roles, too.

Ransom was the team’s nickel back at the end of the season and drew praise from the coaching staff.

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