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B1G shoes to fill: Ohio State

Ohio State's run to the Big Ten title and the national championship featured youth. Lots of it. The Buckeyes return seven starters on defense and eight offensively. Most of the debate this offseason will involve whom among the returning starters will retain jobs. You may have heard about the quarterback situation.

We’re looking this week at shoes to fill around the Big Ten. And Ohio State is no different in its need to fill key spots.

B1G SHOES TO FILL: Doran Grant, CB

Why: A two-year starter who blossomed into a star as a senior, Grant served as the leader of an otherwise youthful secondary for the Buckeyes. By January, the position group rated as a strength of the defense, in large part because of Grant. He collected 63 tackles and intercepted five passes, while breaking up nine. Alabama’s Blake Sims and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota of Oregon found little room to throw against Grant and the Buckeyes in the defensive backfield.

Replacement candidates: Gareon Conley (6-0, 190, sophomore), Damon Webb (5-10, 190, sophomore), Marshon Lattimore (6-0, 195, redshirt freshman)

The skinny: Conley played the most important role of the contenders in 2014, filling a reserve position after his redshirt season in 2013. Webb played a small role as a true freshman. Lattimore redshirted after undergoing surgery last August to repair a hamstring injury. All three came to Columbus as elite recruits and figure to wage a spirited battle next fall to start opposite Eli Apple. This spring, Lattimore remains slowed.

B1G SHOES TO FILL: Michael Bennett, DT

Why: Bennett burst to prominence last season as the anchor of a defensive line, alongside All-America end Joey Bosa, that grew into a dominant unit late in the season. Its progress, in fact, mirrored Bennett’s development. He collected 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including seven sacks and played as well as any defender for the Buckeyes in the final third of the season.

Replacement candidates: Tommy Schutt (6-2, 295, senior), Michael Hill (6-2, 305, sophomore), Donovan Munger (6-4, 300, sophomore)

The skinny: Senior Adolphus Washington appears set to slide into Bennett’s spot, leaving Schutt, Hill and Munger to battle for the nose tackle position, essentially filling Bennett’s spot on the line. Coach Urban Meyer voiced his disappointment early this spring over the progress made by the inexperienced trio. The remainder of April workouts and offseason training look essential for their development to ensure that Ohio State is not left with a weak spot among the front four.