Sabino to Have Redshirt Lifted Against Minnesota
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS — Junior linebacker Etienne Sabino has not played a down for Ohio State this season, but that will likely change Saturday when the Buckeyes travel to Minnesota for their ninth game of the season.
“I just found out today that he was going to step out and play,” senior cornerback Chimdi Chekwa said Tuesday after practice.
The junior out of Miami was competing for a starting spot during the off-season, but agreed to take a redshirt after losing the starting Sam linebacker spot to classmate Andrew Sweat during fall camp.
“I was a little surprised,” Chekwa said of the initial decision to redshirt a third year player like Sabino.
“I haven’t seen it, but it is what it is.”
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker is one of the most physically gifted athletes on the team but he struggled to pick up the mental aspect of the Sam linebacker position after moving outside from the Mike linebacker spot he played at Dr. Krop High school.
Because he is a year behind most of his classmates, the staff decided it might be best for Sabino to take a year to focus on learning the system so he can come back strong with two years of eligibility starting in 2011.
Sabino agreed, and in a perfect world, that would have been the end of it.
Only football doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Guys get hurt every year, but Jim Tressel and his staff never could have imagined facing the type of widespread injuries that have hit the back seven of their defense in 2010.
“I don’t know the details of the situation,” Chekwa said.
“He was redshirting this year but we’ve got a few guys banged up and now he’s going to step up and play.”
While the defensive backfield has been hit the hardest by attrition this season, the linebacking corps certainly has not been spared. The Buckeyes are expected to be without two of their top six linebackers Saturday, including leading-tackler Ross Homan.
“We’ve got Ross a little bit banged up, so Sabino is going to step in and play a little bit,” Chekwa said.
“We’ve got guys ready to play and hopefully he just comes in and begins where he left off.”
Homan, who is tied for the team-lead with 41 tackles this season, went down with a foot injury during Ohio State’s 31-18 loss at Wisconsin. He did not play last week against Purdue and could miss a handful of other games before it’s all said and done.
“Ross Homan, I think, will do a little land running today. He's been running in water a lot,” Tressel said during his Tuesday press conference.
“I don't think there will be any way that he would be ready for this weekend.”
The same goes for redshirt freshman Dorian Bell, who had been backing up Homan at the Will linebacker spot.
With Homan and Bell out, Sweat slid over to the Will spot, where he has played very well the last two weeks. Sophomore Jonathan Newsome replaced Sweat at Sam linebacker, but it’s possible the Buckeyes could decide to use Sabino in that role.
He knows the position and was working with the first-team defense at Sam linebacker for the entire spring and first half of fall camp. The biggest question will be where Sabino’s head is after sitting out the first eight games only to lose his extra year of eligibility this late in the season.
“I think it might be difficult for him. You have to weigh your situation, but ultimately he can be the only one to answer that question,” Chekwa said.
“Hopefully he just comes out here and plays hard and starts where he left off.”
Where he may be counted on most is on special teams, where he recorded seven tackles in 12 games last season. He has been Ohio State’s Special Teams Player of the Week three different times during his career, including each of the last two seasons against Minnesota. He also has two Jack Tatum Hit of the Week honors to his name and could provide a stabling force for an OSU kick coverage team that has struggled mightily this season.
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