Three defensive backs departed, all of them first-round NFL draft picks.

The middle linebacker played on the outside last year.

Another projected starting linebacker was injured in last year’s opener and missed the rest of the season.

So there are question marks about the 2017 Ohio State defense as training camp begins in earnest next week.

There are also exclamation points.

“We have a chance,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said Thursday, “to be exceptional.”

It starts with a line that expects to be the best in the country. The Buckeyes have four defensive ends who would start for almost any other team: Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Nick Bosa and Jalyn Holmes. The interior of the line is also deep and talented.

“We have a great defensive-line coach — I think the best in America — in Larry Johnson,” Schiano said. “He knows how to keep them all involved. We should never have a tired defensive linemen playing out there if, God willing, we stay healthy.”

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Coaches are confident that Chris Worley can make the shift to middle linebacker and are excited about the return of Dante Booker, who was injured in the opener last year and redshirted. The other outside linebacker, Jerome Baker, is projected as a potential first-round NFL pick in 2018.

The secondary is the most unsettled unit on the team. Denzel Ward, who rotated with the departed Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore at cornerback last year, is back, as is safety Damon Webb. Jordan Fuller and Erick Smith lead the competition to succeed Malik Hooker next to Webb.

The other cornerback spot is up for grabs. Damon Arnette will compete with newcomers Kendall Sheffield, Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade and others.

“We would like to have more than two starting corners,” Schiano said. “Right now, we have one. Let’s get a second one, and if we can get a third guy who can play, we’d like to have more than one guy at each position because we run a lot back there. If you can have fresh guys going in there, it certainly helps, not only in a game but in a season with the cumulative reps.”

Hooker and Lattimore were mysteries before breaking through in 2016. The Buckeyes are counting on the latest batch doing the same thing.

“Nobody cares that our guys moved on,” Schiano said. “All they care is the performance in 2017. It’s a challenge. We have really good guys who are poised to step into those roles, and we have to coach the heck out of them. I can tell you this: They’ve worked extremely hard to put themselves in a position to step into those roles.”

Now it’s time for that preparation to pay off.

“We have some holes to fill, but we have really talented guys that are going to compete to step in there,” Schiano said. “We believe they can do it. But thinking they can do it and then doing it, that’s what we’re waiting to see.”