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Ohio State football team begins looking for leaders

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde (34) celebrates after a 3-yard touchdown run against Michigan in the first quarter Nov. 24, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Coming off a 12-0 season, Ohio State opened spring practice Tuesday, March 5, 2013. (AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Most of the most notable players from a team that went 12-0 last season are back for Ohio State in 2013.

Yet when spring practice begins Tuesday, second-year coach Urban Meyer will still be searching for leaders.

The players who set the pace for last year's perfect record weren't necessarily the stars. Defensive end John Simon was, but more of them were like Zach Boren, who split time between linebacker and fullback. They took ownership of the Buckeyes and helped erase the memories of a seven-loss season in 2011.

“That's a huge void,” Meyer said after the season about the departing seniors. “We're in the evaluation phase of who can fill those roles. Make no doubt about it now, that that was a huge part of a successful season.”

So even though the Buckeyes welcome back Sports Illustrated cover boy Braxton Miller, a junior quarterback already trumpeted as a Heisman Trophy contender, along with running back Carlos Hyde, linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby, Meyer will be wondering what players will pick up the slack in the leadership department.

Because only four of the players listed on the two-deep offensive depth chart for the season-ending win against Michigan was a senior, it stands to reason that the offense will be ahead of the defense.

The only losses are TE Jake Stoneburner, RT Reid Fragel and FBs Boren and Adam Homan.

That leaves plenty of quality players on that side of the ball: Miller, Hyde, receivers Corey Brown and Devin Smith and linemen Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall.

The defensive line has holes. Simon, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams, three vocal leaders, were seniors who have moved on. On top of that, Johnathan Hankins elected to give up his final year of eligibility to jump into the NFL Draft. Roby could have done that, too, but decided to return, along with safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett.

“You have the two safeties back now, and you have Roby. So that's three out of four (spots in the secondary) that's stable — where our D-line is not stable, and our linebacker position is not stable,” Meyer said.

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