Javon Hagan (7) celebrates a 3rd down stop against Bowling Green in Peden Stadium October 8, 2017 MATT STARKEY \ FILE
For Ohio to worry about its defense would be an exercise in low self-esteem. What is there to worry about?
Not too much, really.
The Bobcats had Media Day on Friday, and as they finish the first week of fall camp in Athens, they are rightfully concerned about scoring more points. Last season, the Bobcats ranked No. 8 in the Mid-American Conference for points per game (26.3).
Despite the offense needing improvement, the defense has the potential to continue to succeed. Aside from a lack of depth across the defense, the Bobcats still have experienced players. And on top of that, they have some young players who could contribute, too.
“I never got to look at the young guys, but this summer I got to just sit back and stare at the young guys,” running back A.J. Ouellette said on July 26 at MAC Media Day. “And I’m like ‘These guys look like fifth-year seniors.’”
Even with Tarell Basham, Casey Sayles and Blair Brown — key pieces in last year’s front seven — in the NFL, the defense is not built to drastically fall off.
The defensive line lost Basham, Sayles and Kurt Laseak, but the unit had a second string that wasn’t a true second string. Cleon Aloese, Tony Porter, Kevin Robbins, Kent Berger and Trent Smart were essentially starters, playing 25-30 snaps per game.
“The good news is we had so much depth last year, that a lot of guys played,” newly-announced associate head coach and defensive coordinator Jim Burrow said.
This group will likely make up the first string for the defensive line, with two players splitting reps. But the issue throughout the defense — not just the defensive line — is the lack of depth.
The defensive line will perhaps be the unit that sees the most trouble, especially considering players behind the first string haven’t had much game experience, if any at all.
“That’s the challenge now is finding the guys that haven’t played that can create depth,” Burrow said. “So that these guys now that are stepping up to be starters aren’t having to play 70 plays.”
Though the defensive line will need to find depth, the linebacking core is intact. Redshirt seniors Quentin Poling, Chad Moore and Cody Grilliot are returning, with junior Evan Crouch coming back as well.
The secondary had depth troubles last season, as the unit struggled to find reliable backups. Javon Hagan and Kylan Nelson will be the starting safeties, and Mayne Williams and Bradd Ellis will likely be the starting cornerbacks.
But after that, the depth chart isn’t set. Still not too many worries, though.
Hagan, a redshirt sophomore who is a first-time captain, has already noticed players with potential. He said that Jamal Hudson, a freshman cornerback from Miami Central, has had a solid fall camp so far, with Hudson already tallying two interceptions.
“We’re working on getting him more involved into the system, being more comfortable in his plays,” Hagan said.
The Bobcats need more depth on defense. Hagan is coming off a redshirt freshman season in which he won MAC Freshman of the Year. He had a breakout season, and with the potential Ohio has on defense, more players are bound to rise.
That’s just how the Bobcats are built.