- Austin Ward, College Football
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With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.
Who's back: Bradley Roby took his time weighing his options, so Ohio State had no choice but to wait and see if it was replacing both members of a talented twosome or just half of it. Eventually it got the good news it had been hoping for and largely expecting, with Roby ultimately deciding to stick around and build on a banner season as a redshirt sophomore. With or without him heading into 2013, the Buckeyes had been loading up on the recruiting trail and signed what appears to be the best crop of defensive backs in the country, and with Travis Howard moving on to the next level, they could see some action opposite Roby pretty quickly. But there is one other returner who could block the path to the starting lineup after Doran Grant impressed when called upon last fall and could be even better heading into his junior campaign.
New faces: The Buckeyes will no shortage of talented cover guys to sort through in the freshman class, and two of them are already on campus to give the coaching staff an advance look at what they can do. Eli Apple was the crown jewel in RecruitingNation's third-rated classl, and he could make himself a factor for playing time right away thanks to the extra reps and head start he'll be afforded in spring practice. The same is true for Cam Burrows, the ninth-ranked cornerback in the nation coming out of high school and another option who could potentially fill a short-term and long-term void for the Buckeyes.
Projected spring depth chart: Roby is locked in at one cornerback spot, and Grant should have the edge when the Buckeyes report to work next week thanks to his experience and knowledge of the defense. But Apple and Burrows have the physical tools to push for first-team reps, and rising sophomore Armani Reeves also caught the eye of the coaching staff last fall with his contributions on special teams.
Numbers game: No secondary in the Big Ten was more opportunistic than Ohio State's, which tied for the conference lead with 14 interceptions and made quarterbacks think twice about testing its defensive backs all year long. But half of those picks belonged to players who won't be back this spring, led by Howard and his conference-leading four interceptions and two more from safety Orhian Johnson. If Roby is able to turn a handful of his head-turning 17 passes broken up into interceptions, though, the Buckeyes could offset those losses somewhat easily.
One to watch: The newcomers will command plenty of attention as the defensive staff gets a feel for just how much Apple and Burrows could help in their first seasons with the program. But Grant has a big opportunity to make his case in the spring that he deserves a crack at the full-time starting gig after briefly shining in that role while Roby was out with an injury last fall. Pressed into action against UAB in September, Grant offered a glimpse at his potential with an interception, a sack and a fumble recovery in what was easily the finest performance of his career to this point. He was somewhat inconsistent in a reserve role for the rest of the season, but there is already some evidence that Grant can get the job done at cornerback and he'll have a platform during camp to offer more.
He said it: "This year was a concerted effort to go find fast guys. We had to, and in the backend we’re going to have three safeties walk out the door [next year in Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Corey Brown], so we had to get some safeties. We had Travis Howard and Roby, Travis is gone and Roby was almost gone, so we had a big emphasis on corners." -- Urban Meyer on signing day
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice.