Wednesday briefing: Barnett ready to return

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The substitution is fairly standard, and Ohio State was likely to be using its nickel package a lot anyway.

The Buckeyes obviously would have preferred to have their full array of options available instead of what amounts to a trade of a healthy defensive back for an injured linebacker.

Already preparing to face a pass-heavy offense on Saturday, the return of C.J. Barnett should provide a lift in the secondary by restoring a starter to the lineup and adding more flexibility in defending Indiana on Saturday. But the Buckeyes also need the junior back to help offset the loss of senior linebacker Etienne Sabino to a fractured bone in his right leg, an injury that has combined with the lack of depth at the second level and Indiana's spread offense to to put even more emphasis on solid play in the backend.

"We'll be in a lot of nickel this week," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said after practice Wednesday. "[Barnett is] good, about full speed -- he’s playing."

Barnett hasn't played the last three games thanks to his sore ankle, though he at least gave some indication of being close to contributing on the field again after suiting up for the win over Nebraska.

Ultimately he wasn't needed and the secondary nabbed three interceptions without him. But Barnett had been a steady contributor before going down with his injury, making 17 tackles, including one for a loss, and breaking up three passes for a unit that has been forcing turnovers with regularity but could certainly still use another veteran presence.

"C.J. is coming along, his ankle is better," safety Christian Bryant said. "I would say he’s about 90 percent, to be honest. ... He’s been playing it pretty cool, just being one of those top older guys on the sideline coaching guys up, telling us what he sees out there so we can be prepared for it. C.J. has been doing a good job so far even without playing.

"He brings a lot to the table. He’s an experienced guy, he’s been playing for about three years now, so I’m looking forward to him being out there again on the field with me."

Getting Barnett back out there isn't a perfect exchange for Sabino even with an extra defensive back in the formation, since the latter was a part of the nickel package at linebacker with Ryan Shazier.

But while Sabino leaves a hole to fill for one group, the one behind it suddenly has an extra body to work with again.

Ready for duty: The Buckeyes are going to be down a running back again, Braxton Miller still needs a sidekick for the rushing attack and the defense they're facing this week is the worst on the ground in the Big Ten.

That all adds up to what figures to be another busy night for Carlos Hyde, which suits him just fine.

"Yeah, Coach Meyer actually asked me that today," the junior tailback said. "Am I ready for 25 [carries] again? Yeah, I’m ready for that -- that’s part of being a running back."

Hyde actually got the ball 28 times against Nebraska, responding with a career-high 140 yards and four touchdowns in the blowout win.

Hyde showed no signs of wearing out from that heavy workload, with Jordan Hall recovering from a partially torn knee ligament that has him officially listed as doubtful for this week as well. But if the Buckeyes do need somebody else to help out, they continue to gain confidence in backup Rod Smith -- who scored a 33-yard touchdown among his two attempts against the Huskers.

"Rod is earning some playing time," Meyer said. "He had about an eight- or nine-second block on Philly Brown’s punt return for a touchdown and we ran him down on kickoff, so he’s earning his stripes around here, and he’s earning them real fast. I’m real proud of him."

He said it: "They’re coming on. I think the fact we had Nathan Williams and John Simon both healthy, that kind of made an impact. I think we had some attrition right before the season that hurt us, lost [defensive tackle Adam] Bellamy just out of the blue, and he’s a guy that maybe wasn’t a great player, but he was a good player and started a lot of games here. So there’s some depth issues and then the freshmen have to jump in there, and they’re not ready." -- Meyer on the improvements of his defensive line