COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them, starting today in the secondary.
Who: Inconsistent heading into his last season with the Buckeyes, Travis Howard turned in his most productive campaign from start to finish and formed one of the best partnerships in the country at cornerback opposite Bradley Roby. Howard wasn't perfect by any stretch and dealt with injuries throughout the season, but his experience and knack for big plays will be tough to replace.
By the numbers: While Roby received the majority of the attention and accolades for his eye-popping number of passes defended, it was Howard who actually led the Buckeyes and the Big Ten in interceptions on the way to a perfect record.The senior also blocked a punt that led to a touchdown and recovered a fumble, giving Ohio State the kind of takeaway help it had emphasized heading into the year.
Job description: Assuming Roby elects to return, the Buckeyes are going to need to find a complementary piece to put on the other side of the field -- one who will likely face more throws his way than the average cornerback with teams likely to take their chances avoiding Roby, a potential first-round NFL pick down the road. Ohio State was at its best defensively late in the season when it dialed up its pressure packages and played more man coverage in the back end, trusting Roby and Howard to regularly come out on top in their matchups. The next starter will have to be capable of doing the same thing.
Top candidate: The Buckeyes have already had a chance to get a look at what Doran Grant can do in live action, and the early returns were positive for the rising junior. Inserted for an entire game with Roby injured against UAB in September, Grant stuffed the stats sheet in virtually every column with seven tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and an interception that helped the Buckeyes overcome a sluggish performance on offense and finish up its nonconference slate unbeaten. Grant should have the first crack at getting back in the starting lineup on a full-time basis.
One to watch: Ohio State is putting together perhaps the best collection of secondary talent in the entire nation as it works on the 2013 recruiting class, but there are already some guys on campus that could make a push for more playing time after spending time on special teams as true freshmen. Armani Reeves impressed with his athleticism and work ethic during his first season with the program, and he could benefit from a big offseason.