Like most of his coaches and teammates, Orhian Johnson was not sure what to expect from one of Ohio State’s defensive players this season.
After having missed the entire 2009 season while recovering from a head injury suffered after being attacked in a Florida bar during that summer, Tyler Moeller had been given a clean bill of health by doctors. The “star” in OSU’s defense – a hybrid linebacker/defensive back who enters the field in passing situations – opened fall camp as a full-fledged member of the team.
But while no one was questioning his toughness, there was some question as to what the Cincinnati native would be able to provide this season.
“We didn’t really know what to expect unfortunately because of that injury but we knew if we were going to have Tyler anywhere close to 100 percent that we were going to get a lot of production,” said Johnson, a safety. “He just flies to the ball. He’s always trying to get a big play. He’s a football player. That’s what I like to call him: a true football player.”
That prediction proved accurate. Through the first three games of the season, Moeller leads the team in tackles for a loss with 3.5 and is second overall with 16 tackles. He recorded his first career interception in last week’s victory against Ohio University and was named the team’s defensive player of the week.
In other words, he has given the Buckeyes a lot of production.
“I knew coming into it what type of player I am and what type of plays I can make,” he said. “I wanted to show people what I can do and what I could’ve done a year ago and two years ago. I know what type of player I am and what type of plays I could make.”
As a sophomore during the 2008 season, Moeller started to carve a role for himself on OSU’s defense. He earned his first career start on a cold, blustery day at Illinois and responded with seven tackles including two for a loss and also forced a fumble.
In front of the largest crowd to ever watch a spring scrimmage, Moeller then led his Scarlet squad with eight tackles including two for a loss and one sack in OSU’s annual spring game. That performance had head coach Jim Tressel convinced that Moeller would be a key part of the team’s defense during the 2009 season.
“When he left here the spring of ‘09, we assumed he'd be a starter,” the coach said. “All of a sudden he got more reps and graduated into a role, (and after) that ‘09 spring game you'd have left the stadium saying he may be one of the leading tackles next year.”
Tressel also added that the coaches say a player never loses his position in their minds due to an injury, but Moeller’s injury was anything but minor. Even now, Moeller said he has to undergo occasional scans to ensure that playing football is not putting him in risk of re-injuring his head.
So far so good, but Moeller said he is more susceptible to suffering concussions as a result of the injury.
Tuesday, Moeller admitted to a few nerves about resuming full-contact drills for the first time since his August return. The defensive back said he considers it lucky that the first time he was hit, he never saw it coming.
“I got hit really hard,” he said. “That was how I got past it. Taurian Washington ran a slant and I didn’t see him coming and we ran into each other. That was the first time and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to be fine.’
“I think that was better for me because I didn’t see it coming and it was a really big hit. I think if I saw him I would’ve braced myself or something like that. Him coming and hitting me like that was a big step.”
Asked about the incident, Washington laughed.
“I don’t remember that,” he said. “It might have been the other way around. His first day, he might have hit me.”
In the team’s season-opening victory against Marshall, Moeller earned the team’s Jack Tatum hit of the week honor for one play where he flattened the opposing quarterback from the blind side.
In other words, he can give them out as well as take them.
“(Linebackers coach Luke) Fickell called a blitz play last week and I smiled like, ‘OK, I get to blitz’ and I got a little excited,” Moeller said.” We checked the call and I didn’t get to blitz. I got a little bummed on the field about that. I love blitzing. That’s one of my best things I’m good at. Every time I get a blitz I start to smile.”