We have all heard by now that Ohio State is replacing nine starters from last year's defense. Gone are all three linebackers, all four members of the starting secondary, and two members of the defensive line. Are they rebuilding or simply reloading? Let's take a look at the defensive starters.
Defensive End: Jay Richardson 6'6" 275 5th year Senior
Richardson backed up Patterson at defensive end last year but will start consistently for the first time this season. A knee injury has curbed his success in college. Coming into this season, Richardson has only registered 27 tackles in 26 total games. Richardson will be effective but not spectacular.
Defensive Tackle: David Patterson 6'3" 285 Senior
Inside we find the first of the returning starters. Patterson started last year at defensive end but was moved inside this year and teams with Pitcock to anchor the line and the defense. Running inside could be difficult on Saturday for Young and Charles.
Defensive Tackle: Quinn Pitcock 6'3" 295 5th year Senior
Pitcock is the second returning starter on defense and is by far the most experienced Buckeye on defense. Pitcock will be starting for the third straight season. He is a legitimate All American candidate who will likely require a double team not only this Saturday but all season long.
Defensive End: Vernon Gholston 6'4" 260 Sophomore
Ghloston played linebacker in high school but was quickly switched to end. He contributed some as a true freshman in 2004 and may have started last season if not for an injured hand during the first game.
Strong Side: Marcus Freeman 6'2" 242 Sophomore
Freeman played in 2004 as a true freshman but mostly on special teams. He was challenging for playing time last year before an injury in the first game forced him to sit out the season. Freeman was a Parade All American in high school and has a chance to join the list of great OSU linebackers.
Middle: James Laurinaitis 6'3" 244 Sophomore
Laurinaitis played in all 12 games last year as a true freshman starting the final two after Bobby Carpenter went down with a broken ankle. He was Minnesota's Defensive Mr. Football as a senior.
Weak Side: John Kerr 6'1" 233 5th year Senior
Kerr has been around awhile but hasn't spent much time on the field. After playing in all 11 games for Indiana in 2002 and leading the team in tackles, he transferred to OSU. Kerr sat out in 2003 and didn't see any action in 2004 either. Last year, he backed up Anthony Schlegel and didn't take the field much again. In three seasons at OSU, he is credited with just 14 tackles.
Corner: Malcolm Jenkins 6'1" 202 Sophomore
Jenkins was a surprise contributor last season playing in 10 games and starting three. Showing once again how much this team lost from last year, he is the top returning tackler with 37 tackles. Jenkins has been timed at 4.3 in the 40 yard dash. He will likely draw the assignment of Limas Sweed.
Corner: Antonio Smith 5'9" 195 5th year Senior
Smith is an undersized corner with a lot of determination. Smith is a former walk-on who was awarded an athletic scholarship this past spring. Look for the Horns to try to isolate Smith and Sweed (6'5" 219) for a fade route at some point on Saturday night.
Free Safety: Nick Patterson 6'2" 210 Sophomore
Patterson is probably the least experienced starter on defense. He red-shirted in 2004 and played just 18 total minutes last season.
Strong Safety: Brandon Mitchell 6'3" 205 Senior
Mitchell has contributed in each of the last three seasons on special teams and as a nickel back especially. He has played in 33 games but started in just eight.
The line, where both returning starters reside, is obviously the strength of this defense. The front four do not worry Buckeye faithful but the strength of the other seven raise questions. There is no way to replace Hawk, Carpenter, and Schlegel at linebacker. It simply can't be done. Freeman could be an All American linebacker in a season or two and Jenkins should blossom into a solid shutdown corner. But the other starters are severely lacking in experience. That inexperience could be the difference if our defense is able to slow down Troy Smith and the OSU offense. To me this does not look like a championship defense. OSU appears to be adopting the "bend but don't break" philosophy this season on D. Basically, don't give up 30+ and the offense will simply outscore the opponent. I am not sold that will be enough against the Horns.
Depth chart and bio info courtesy of The official site of the Ohio State Buckeyes.