To look at Sam Hubbard’s numbers, you might not come away as impressed with his performances as you should be.
Last year, he tied for third on the Ohio State football team with 3.5 sacks and finished fourth with 8.5 tackles for loss. Those aren’t exactly staggering numbers for a guy who is supposed to spend the bulk of his time in the backfield.
Ask the Ohio State coaches about Sam Hubbard, however, and the story they tell is the only one you need to hear.
“He’s the definition of elite,” Urban Meyer said of Hubbard this spring. “He leads. He has self-discipline, self-respect, and an incredible work ethic. That’s how you identify the characteristics of elite players and he’s as elite as I’ve ever been around. He’s just been working and working and shows up every day with the same demeanor. On special teams he’s a valuable guy. He’s the face.”
Hubbard had a decision to make following the 2016 season. He could stay at Ohio State for a fourth year, or head to the NFL where he was already being talked about as a valuable commodity. Being on track to graduate this year, however, he decided to stick it out and continue to work on his game.
Another offseason under strength coach Mickey Marotti paid off, as has another spring under defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
“I think my run fits have gotten a lot better because of the time I spent with Coach Mick in the offseason,” Hubbard said this spring. “A lot of stuff has gone into my hips and hands with Coach Johnson this offseason, especially this spring. I wake up at 6:30 every other day, I have some film work on the practice before just to get better. That’s what I’m really focused on, getting stronger in the run game, and hips and hands.”
Hubbard’s area of focus comes from the feedback he received from those in the NFL. He never submitted his name to the NFL to be evaluated, but Marotti and Johnson both received feedback from their connections. The response was to work on pass rush moves, and that requires improved hips and hands.
The critique was well received and Hubbard went to work. According to his position coach, he is now a better player for it.
“No question about it,” Johnson said. “Every guy has something to get better on. Nobody is actually where they need to be. Sam has made his hands faster, really worked on his hips and flipping his hips better. Understanding where the ball is at, where his depth has got to be. Those are all small things that you get to work on when you have the offseason. There is always something to get better on. When we watch the videotape, those are the things that they want to get. ‘Coach, how can I get better?’ And that is my job, to find that way to improve them. That is my approach the whole time.”
So What’s Next for Sam Hubbard?
Hubbard’s versatility is basically grafted onto his biography at Ohio State. He’s gone from linebacker to tight end to defensive end, and his improvements this offseason will put all of that versatility to good use. You’ll even see him standing up on the edge and playing a bit of a “jack linebacker” role this season. It won’t change too much of what he is asked to do, but it will come with another purpose.
“When you take a defensive lineman and take him out of a three-point stance and put him in a two it doesn’t make him a linebacker,” linebackers coach Billy Davis explained. “All it is is it’s a little thing — he takes his hand off the ground and the offense says, ‘Oh, my God! What is he now?’ So, sometimes we do it just to make them say ‘Oh, my God.’ His role doesn’t change a whole lot. Now, there’s different things you can do with him. When you stand up, the offense simply says, ‘Well, he can do more than he can in a three-point.’ There’s more dropping ability, there’s more movement.”
At a position of depth for the Buckeyes, Sam Hubbard is basically the Mariana Trench, and his coaches love him for it.
“Very talented guy,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “He’s a big man, but he has the dexterity to move around and do some things that guys his size usually don’t. So I think he gives you flexibility. You can see that he’s an athlete who’s gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. But he moves with that kind of efficiency that you can tell he’s an athlete.”