Sweat, Shazier Expected to Play, Together?
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For a few minutes, it looked like Ohio State was going to have to finish out the Michigan game without its two best linebackers.
Photo by Dan Harker
With senior Andrew Sweat sidelined by head and shoulder injuries, the Buckeyes turned to exciting young freshman Ryan Shazier to fill their void at linebacker. Making his first start ever, Shazier had recorded a team-high 15 tackles against Penn State, but he suffered a left knee injury early in the Michigan game.
Ohio State didn’t have many options at linebacker, so they stuck with Shazier, even though he was a shadow of the player he had been a week earlier against the Nittany Lions.
Now the Buckeyes may have both players in the lineup together when they take on the University of Florida in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.
“(My elbow) feels good,” Sweat said this past week.
“I wear a brace, obviously, but it’s feeling pretty good.”
Sweat was knocked out of the Purdue game with a head injury in the first half. He missed the Penn State game due to a concussion but was expected to play against the Wolverines before he dislocated his elbow in practice.
“It was severe pain,” Sweat said.
“It probably took them 15 minutes to put it back in.”
There is no telling whether a healthy Sweat, or Shazier, would have prevented the Wolverines from hanging 40 points on Ohio State in Ann Arbor, but Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock admitted they had planned to use the two of them together, which is something they have revived for the bowl game.
“It hasn't really been that hard of a transition,” Sweat said of his move to Middle linebacker.
After playing the Sam linebacker spot last year, Sweat took over for Ross Homan as Ohio State’s Will linebacker this year—typically the most productive tackler on the team’s defense. He finished second on the team in tackles behind safety C.J. Barnett during the regular season, but he was well out in front before the injuries.
Now Sweat will slide inside to take over as a Mike linebacker so that Shazier can prepare himself for the future at Will. Before Christmas, Sweat considered himself to be 90 percent healthy and trending upward, but he will likely be playing a new position in Gator Bowl.
“I probably feel more comfortable at Mike (middle linebacker),” Sweat said last week.
“At Mike, it's more you come down and fit the fullback and are inside, tackle-to-tackle. I haven't taken that many reps, but I feel pretty comfortable there.”
Shazier looks like a natural at the Will spot and might be Ohio State’s best linebacker right now. The fact Sweat is moving inside says a lot about the performances of Etienne Sabino and Storm Klein, both of whom left something to be desired this season.
Sabino can also play the Sam spot, but the Buckeyes will likely use a lot of nickel defense against the Gators’ spread offense. That means a lot of Tyler Moeller and even some dime looks.
The two linebackers who will see the most time in the game will be Shazier, who is recovering from that knee injury, and Sweat, who has been around the system long enough to learn all three linebacker spots.
“I think what Coach (Luke) Fickell preached when I was younger is that we learn it as a scheme,” Sweat said.
“You don’t just learn your position. You learn the whole defense as a concept and a scheme. When you do that it’s easier to interchange people into different spots because you know what the Sam (strongside linebacker) is doing and the Mike and Will are doing.”
Having Sweat and Shazier on the field together could give the Buckeyes their best defensive unit all season. Shazier had 23 tackles in his two starts and should be one of the best players on Ohio State’s defense next season.
Don’t expect to see Sweat back in a Buckeyes uniform next year, however, despite rumors he was going to apply for a medical redshirt after this season.
“I think I played too many games,” said Sweat, who missed three games with a knee injury during his sophomore (2009) season.
“It was a stretch, but it was something they brought up with minimal chance I guess.”
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