Ohio State football: Linebackers know they’re on spot
Linebackers Curtis Grant, left, and Joshua Perry are expected to compete for starting jobs.
There’s no use denying it, so Ohio State linebackers don’t.
No position group will be under more scrutiny than them, and none has more to prove. Ryan Shazier is an All-America candidate. Other than him, there are only questions.
Joshua Perry said the pressure is something they talk about daily.
“We have the most pressure on us out of anyone on the defense,” the sophomore from Lewis Center said after the second spring practice yesterday. “Even the young guys on the d-line definitely played more than our linebackers, who were young. We have to step up and definitely prove to everybody on our team first that we can do it before we can prove it to other people.”
Perry is confident that will happen.
“We’ve got guys who want to do it,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. If you want to, you can do it.”
Other than Shazier, the linebacker position was a bit of a black hole last year. When Etienne Sabino suffered a broken leg against Nebraska, the Buckeyes turned to fullback Zach Boren, who stabilized the defense.Coach Urban Meyer asked Boren to switch before the Indiana game because the linebacker group resembled an infirmary. But none of them distinguished themselves when given a chance. The most notable was middle linebacker Curtis Grant. The five-star recruit lost his starting job after only three games.
“I got too complacent,” he said. “I couldn’t handle the glory, I guess, of being a starter. I should have kept working harder.”Grant said he considered transferring but vowed to come back stronger. He said he had always been a leader until he got to Ohio State and had to learn from older players. Now he believes he’s ready to lead again.
“When it’s your time, you feel it,” he said. “You feel different. I feel like my old high-school self.”
On Tuesday, Meyer said he “absolutely” had faith in Grant’s ability to do the job.
“Everybody matures at different times,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. “It’s not lack of ability. It’s just having some confidence and having the ability to let loose.”
Fickell said the two spots alongside Shazier are open. Perry has the versatility to play outside or middle linebacker. Camren Williams, also a sophomore, is regarded as a smart player. He will challenge for the middle spot.
Luke Roberts and David Perkins are two more sophomores who will be given their chance. In the summer, blue-chip freshmen Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson will arrive.
On Tuesday, Meyer said the Buckeyes may use their nickel defense frequently this season to stop opponents’ passing offenses. That may mean that only one linebacker spot besides Shazier’s is up for grabs.
“We’re going to play the best 11 guys,” Fickell said. “We’re going to put the best 11 tacklers on the field and find a way to be successful. If that happens to be two linebackers, three linebackers, four linebackers or whatever it is, we’re going to find a way to get the best 11 out there.”
Fickell is understandably reluctant to make strong declarations based on two days of practice in shorts. But he is optimistic that the linebackers won’t be a liability by the time the season opens.
“I have the utmost confidence,” he said.