Buckeyes replacing defense

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 22, 2004

COLUMBUS - The architect of the defense is gone and so are many of the players who carried out his blueprint as Ohio State won 25 of its last 27 games.

Still, don't shed any tears for Ohio State's defenders in 2004.

''We're making some progress, but certainly we've got some big shoes to fill,'' said Mel Tucker, the Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. Then, with a laugh, he added, ''We've got a ways to go yet.''

Email newsletter signup

Tucker is sharing the coordinator's title with Mark Snyder. They took over upon the departure of Mark Dantonio, who designed the defense that helped the Buckeyes win the national title in 2002 and was the core of last year's 11-2 mark. Dantonio will appear on the Ohio Stadium sidelines on Sept. 4 - on the visitors side - as the head coach at the University of Cincinnati.

In addition to the loss of Dantonio, the Buckeyes are also learning to adjust to life without standouts such as linemen Will Smith, Tim Anderson and Darrion Scott, linebackers Fred Pagac Jr. and Robert Reynolds and backs Chris Gamble and Will Allen.

Ohio State wraps up its 15 spring practices with Saturday's annual intrasquad game at Ohio Stadium.

Fifteen practices just aren't enough, Snyder said.

''I wish we had another week. I wish we had another couple of weeks,'' he said. ''We've had to go a little bit slower in putting things in just because of our youth. When that depth does come into play and we have to use those young guys, we want to know that they can go in and play five, six or seven different defenses and know them inside and out. We want to have something to hang our hat on when they're in the game.''

There are plenty of worthy candidates to fill the vacancies. Returnee Simon Fraser will likely be joined up front by a herd of players: juniors Marcus Green and Mike Kudla and sophomores David Patterson, Jay Richardson and Joel Penton.

''I think they're competing hard and they want to do well,'' head coach Jim Tressel said of the new linemen. ''They're doing everything we've asked of them. I know we're not as good as we were when we last played, but they sure want to be. There's nothing I'm discouraged about.''

The key is coming up with a solid group and not just one or two players who eat up all the playing time. The Buckeyes favor playing several linemen through a game, substituting by situation and to keep fresh legs in the game.

''We're developing depth. It's a war down in there and you have to have a lot of players,'' Snyder said. ''Jim's always done a great job rotating. We have to make sure he has guys to rotate.''

There does not appear to be any falloff at linebacker, where A.J. Hawk will be joined by transfers Anthony Schlegel and John Kerr along with holdovers Mike D'Andrea and Bobby Carpenter.

Schlegel was an all-conference player two years ago at Air Force. Kerr led Indiana in tackles two seasons ago.

''The biggest thing on defense is we need to build a nasty attitude,'' Kerr said. ''I think we're moving in that direction.''