FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Ohio State’s defense had enough trouble at full strength this season.
How would it withstand one of the nation’s highest-scoring offenses with three missing starters — including two of the unit’s best players — and a reassembled secondary?
The Buckeyes may find out in Friday night’s Orange Bowl against Clemson. Defensive end and sacks leader Noah Spence remained away from the team Monday with an unspecified personal issue while star cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Curtis Grant are questionable with lingering injuries.
Coach Urban Meyer said he should know more today on the status of Spence and Roby, who is still recovering from a knee bone bruise suffered in the the Big Ten championship game. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said Grant continues to be "really limited" by back trouble that sidelined him late in the season.
The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are shuffling the back line after their pass defense — ranked 105th nationally — was blistered on back-to-back weeks against Michigan and Michigan State. Freshman safety Vonn Bell will start at nickelback while Tyvis Powell will shift to safety, nudging senior Corey Brown into a reserve role.
Meyer said he is especially excited about Bell’s first start.
"I've always been a Vonn Bell guy," he said. "It takes time to move them into the lineup, but Vonn Bell is certainly a talented guy that's going to play a lot of ball here."
SHAZIER UNDECIDED: Ryan Shazier isn’t sure whether he will stay or go after his junior season, but the Buckeyes’ All-American linebacker is beginning to get a sense of his projected value.
Shazier said the NFL draft advisory board gave him a second-round grade. Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the draft.
"I’m really just going to talk it over with my coaches and my parents and see how everything goes," he said. "Right now, I'm not even thinking about where I would go in the draft or that type of thing. All I'm thinking about is Clemson."
HALL BACK: Senior right guard Marcus Hall is back in good standing and expected to start his final game Friday.
Hall missed the Big Ten championship game after his ejection and obscene gesture in the Buckeyes’ regular-season finale at Michigan.
"Marcus handled everything well after the incident," offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's a great kid and he's worked hard. He made a mistake, he paid his penance, and now he's ready to roll. We're looking forard to him playing well."
COLLEGE LIFER: Meyer was reminded the Cleveland Browns — his favorite team growing up in Ashtabula — have an opening.
"I heard that. One year?" he said, referring to Toledo native Rob Chudzinski’s stunning pink slip after one season.
No," he said, smiling. "I'm not looking at any jobs."
Meyer said he almost accepted an NFL assistant position early in his career but his wife, Shelley, vetoed the move.
"I have a lot of respect for the NFL but it just never seemed to work out," he said. "I just think I'm a college coach. I like being around college players."
EXTRA POINTS: Two former Buckeyes now playing for the Dolphins — wide receiver Brian Hartline and linebacker Austin Spitler — took in Monday’s practice at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. ... Fickell said freshman safety and Central Catholic graduate Jayme Thompson is in the final stages of his rehab from ankle surgery in August. Thompson is not practicing for the bowl but should be at full strength for winter conditioning.