Ranking the Big Ten Secondaries — The Leaders Division
By Tony Gerdeman
There are a number of terrific underclassmen patrolling the Big Ten secondaries this season who will have a tough NFL decision to make coming this January.
There are also cornerbacks who get caught looking too often and safeties who watch more people run by them than the guy who runs the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
It's the Big Ten, what do you want?
The Leaders Division is fairly top heavy, with four members in the top six of this list. You'll find the usual suspects bringing up the rear.
1. Ohio State
Starters: Bradley Roby (CB), Travis Howard (CB), C.J. Barnett (S), Christian Bryant (S)
Backups: Doran Grant, Corey Brown, Orhian Johnson, Zach Domicone, Adam Griffin, Tyvis Powell*, Ron Tanner, Jamie Wood, Devan Bogard*, Najee Murray*, Armani Reeves*
Safety C.J. Barnett was a second-team All-Big Ten pick last season and is a good bet to make it to the first team this year. He is the leader of the secondary and Urban Meyer has complete faith in him. Christian Bryant is generally in the right place at the right time, but he doesn't always do what he should when he gets there. Safeties coach Everett Withers has Bryant concentrating on the fundamentals, but he loves his instincts. Bradley Roby is just a redshirt sophomore, but there may only be one or two better draft prospects on the defensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes. He is the fastest player on the team (4.31), can be a blanket in coverage, and has no fear in run support. Travis Howard needs to have his best season now that he is a senior, and it will all depend on his consistency. He has the ability, he just needs to execute. Sophomore corner Doran Grant is a good number three and safeties Orhian Johnson and Corey Brown both have experience.
Starters: Marcus Cromartie (CB), Devin Smith (CB), Shelton Johnson (S), Dezmen Southward (S)
Backups: Darius Hillary, Peniel Jean, Michael Caputo, Michael Trotter, Hugs Etienne*, Darius Feaster, Terrance Floyd, Devin Gaulden, Reggie Mitchell*, Jerry Ponio, D.J. Singleton*, James Wright
With three experienced seniors and one promising junior, this could be the best secondary in Bret Bielema's tenure. In fact, he's already touting his safety tandem as his best ever. Keep in mind that there are three safeties in the NFL who played under Bielema, so that statement shouldn't be taken lightly. Shelton Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles last season with 54, and was second on the team in passes defended with eight. Dezmen Southward is the lone junior in the starting lineup, but he's a physical freak (6-2 215, 4.4 speed) and has a very high ceiling. He only played one year of football in high school, so it's difficult to say when he will become the player that he could be. Devin Smith was injured last year and only played in the first two games of the season. Bielema said it was Smith's injury that cost Wisconsin a national championship spot. He's a veteran and plays like one. Marcus Cromartie stepped in when Smith was injured last year and played well enough, but more is expected of him this year.
Starters: Terry Hawthorne (CB), Justin Green (CB), Supo Sanni (S), Steve Hull (S)
Backups: Jack Ramsey, Eaton Spence, Patrick Nixon-Youman, Earnest Thomas, Daniel Quintana, K.J. Picard, Nick North, Kaman Mitchell, Ben Mathis, Nick Forzley, Austin Abner, Taylor Barton*, B.J. Bello*, V'Angelo Bentley*, Justin Hardee*, Jevaris Little*
Having the Illini this high is a bit of a projection, but if all goes as planned and everybody stays healthy, this secondary will be one of the Big Ten's best. There are essentially four starters returning, though Justin Green's 13 starts came in 2010. Terry Hawthorne is one of the most natural athletes in the conference, and could play a number of positions. Green is one of the faster players on the team, and the senior was a one-time Ohio State commit back in the day. Supo Sanni is one of the bigger safeties in the conference (6'3 220), and has a ton of experience. Steve Hull is battling a shoulder injury and has been slowed in fall practice. When he's healthy, he should assume his starting role. In his place has been Earnest Thomas, and the redshirt sophomore has impressed. Depth has also increased throughout camp, and this two-deep is one of the better equipped in the entire Big Ten. Freshman cornerback V'Angelo Bentley, from Cleveland Glenville, has been impressive as well.
Starters: Ricardo Allen (CB), Josh Johnson (CB)
Possible Starters/Backups: Max Charlot, Normondo Harris, Taylor Richards, Frankie Williams, E.J. Johnson, Landon Feichter, Sean Collins, Antoine Lewis, Chris Quinn
For as set as the Boilermakers are with Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson at cornerback, they are at the opposite end of the spectrum as it relates to the safety position. Currently, the two safety spots are being battled for by Max Charlot (who started four games last year), Taylor Richards, and Landon Feichter (one start last year). Richards appears to be the best bet to win one of the spots. Danny Hope has said that he will start the four best defensive backs, regardless of position, so it is possible that a cornerback may end up moving to safety. Fortunately for the Boilers, they have some very good cornerbacks. Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson may be the best pair of corners in the conference. Johnson is a physical corner who is busier than Allen because defenses tend to attack him more. Allen, a junior, is a two-time second-team All-Big Ten player and could be looking towards the NFL after this season. Normondo Harris was impressive in the spring at cornerback, and started fall camp well before being injured. He should figure into the mix somewhere.
9. Penn State
Starters: Stephon Morris (CB), Malcolm Willis (S)
Possible Starters/Backups: Adrian Amos, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Ryan Keiser, Jacob Fagnano, Tim Buckley, Jesse Della Valle, Da'Quan Davis*, Jeff Cully, Jordan Lucas*, Jake Kiley*
According to head coach Bill O'Brien, there are about six members of the Penn State secondary who he thinks can play. Rather than move receivers over to defense, however, they are just going to tough it out with what they have. Stephon Morris has started twelve games in his first three seasons and was named the most improved player this past spring. Adrian Amos could be the other cornerback, or he could be a safety. Malcolm Willis has started seven games in his first two seasons, and seems a good bet to start at safety. O'Brien also mentioned Jacob Fagnano and Jesse Della Valle as well. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong impressed at safety during camp and could challenge for a spot. Freshmen Da'Quan Davis and Jordan Lucas have also earned their coach's praise. Overall, there is some promise here, but it's based on players who have been benched before.
Starters: Greg Heban (CB), Lawrence Barnett (CB), Mark Murphy (S)
Possible Starters/Backups: Alexander Webb, Kenny Mullen, Michael Hunter, Ryan Thompson (JC), Drew Hardin, Forisse Hardin, Shaquille Jefferson, Tregg Waters*, Brian Williams, Dawson Fletcher*, Antonio Marshall (JC), Tim Bennett (JC)
There is some experience here and an influx of junior college prospects, which makes a questionable secondary one that may play a little better than expected. The Hoosiers do return three starters from last year, but that doesn't mean those three players are guaranteed to start this year. Head coach Kevin Wilson will be looking to replace starters with better talent for as long as he remains in Bloomington. Greg Heban and Lawrence Bennett will be pushed by redshirt freshman Kenny Mullen, as well as any of the incoming junior college players. Safety Mark Murphy led all true freshmen in tackles in the Big Ten last season, but his job is also on the line. The coaches like the speed that they have brought in these last two recruiting classes, and the faster the players are, the more mistakes they can recover from. Still, the Hoosiers are going to have to get much faster to make up for all of the mistakes they are going to make this year.
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.