The Washington C.H., Ohio, defensive lineman missed all but one game last year with a knee injury. Now a senior, he will rotate with sophomore Michael Bennett until his rehabbed knee proves to be fully healed. The 2011 preseason All-Big Ten selection posted 45 tackles and 4.5 sacks back in 2010 and will be a major factor on arguably the best defensive line in the Big Ten.
Athleticism and a mean streak can make for a dangerous combination at linebacker and that is exactly what the sophomore brings to the Buckeyes defense. His ability to blitz the quarterback and play sideline-to-sideline football, as well as drop into coverage, makes him one of the more versatile players on the defense. As only a freshman, the Plantation, Fla., tackler posted 58 total tackles, 5.0 tackles for a loss, three sacks and one interception. Alongside budding star Curtis Grant, there should be little drop-off from decades of stellar linebacking play.
As only a sophomore, the Cincinnati prospect earned all 13 starts for the Buckeyes front line a year ago, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition. Now, as an upperclassmen, Norwell is being asked to shift inside to allow for counterpart Jack Mewhort to take over at left tackle. It will be the 6-foot-6, 304-pounders third position in as many years and will be asked to take more of a leadership role at a position that is in desperate need of a veteran presence.
On a unit that is lacking for depth, star power and consistency, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound blocker might be the most important. The Toledo, Ohio, native has played at every position along the offensive line and will now be asked to protect Braxton Miller’s blindside at left tackle. The edge of the offensive line will be the major question mark and it falls to Mewhort to stabilize the edge. Meyer believes that “he is probably our best lineman and he is our most consistent lineman.” Miller certainly hopes the honorable mention All-Big Ten hog molly lives up to Meyer’s expectations.
The second-team All-Big Ten selection led the Buckeyes in tackles a year ago with 75 total stops. He had two interceptions and one sack as he led the back end of the Buckeye defense. The Dayton, Ohio, prospect is one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the Big Ten and, at 6-foot-1 and over 200 pounds, opposing wide receivers better know exactly where No. 4 is at all times.
The good news is that Stoneburner led the Buckeyes in receptions, and set a career high, with seven touchdowns and received honorable mention All-Big Ten a year ago because of it. The bad news is that he led the Buckeyes in receptions with 14. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Dublin, Ohio, product got off to a scorching start with four touchdowns and eight catches in the first two games. Once Miller took over as the starter under center, Stoneburner’s numbers dropped — try two catches in the last six games. Rest assured, however, that No. 5 knows exactly where his big tight end is this season.
In one quick year on the field in Columbus, Roby has established himself as one of the Big Ten’s most complete cornerbacks. He picked off three passes in his first seven career games and finished with 47 total tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound coverman from Suwanee, Ga., will be expected to play less press coverage. The result will be more aggressive play and likely big plays from the supremely talented redshirt sophomore.
He may not exhibit the same quickness, toughness or overall raw power of John Simon, but Hankins is the most talented defensive lineman on the roster. He posted 67 total tackles, three sacks and 11.0 tackles for a loss last year, but the massive tackle has trimmed his weight to 317 pounds and it should allow him to be more disruptive up the middle. In fact, one of the best quotes in the Athlon Sports 2012 Big Ten preview magazine comes from veteran center Corey Linsley: “Hank is now a little bit less of an immovable object and is more of an unstoppable force.” Hankins could be the top nose guard taken in the 2013 NFL Draft if he puts together the type of season fans and coaches are expecting.
It was a tale of two halves for the true freshman from Huber Heights, Ohio. The No. 2 quarterback prospect in the nation took his lumps early in his first season, but eventually took over as the starter and flourished. By his fourth career game, he was the starter but completed only 16-of-35 passes for a total of 251 yards in his first four starts without scoring a rushing touchdown. But the final six games of the season were a totally different story. He rushed for 472 yards, including his first three career 100-yard games, and all seven rushing touchdowns over that span. He also threw eight of his 13 touchdowns and 756 of his 1,159 passing yards over the second half of the season. Now, in his sophomore season under spread guru Urban Meyer, Miller’s stock is absolutely soaring.
One of the strongest players to ever play at Ohio State, Simon is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes defense. The Youngstown, Ohio, product is a bit undersized at 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds but makes up for it with effort, raw strength, quickness and toughness. He led the team in sacks (7.0) and tackles for a loss (16.0) a year ago and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors because of his stellar play. He has 110 career tackles, 27.5 career tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks entering his final season. He should totally disrupt the edge of Big Ten offenses all season long and could easily find himself in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
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