Notebook: Sabino’s Return Questionable for Illinois
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s still very much up in the air, but there’s a chance the Buckeyes could have senior linebacker Etienne Sabino on the field Saturday when they host Illinois at Ohio Stadium.
Photo by Dan Harker
The fifth-year senior out of Miami has missed the last three games with a broken leg suffered in the first half of Ohio State’s 63-38 win over Nebraska back on Oct. 6. Initial reports said the Buckeyes were targeting the Wisconsin game after the bye week for Sabino, but Urban Meyer said Monday he could possibly be ready to go as early as this week.
“I would say it's questionable for this week, and we'll let you know as he gets going,” Meyer said Monday during his weekly press luncheon.
“I'll give you more, I don't want to give you something wrong. I just saw him in there. There is no player trying harder.”
Sabino was third on the team in tackles after five games and had arguably one of the best performances of his career in Ohio State’s 17-16 win over Michigan State in East Lansing.
He is still tied for fifth on the team in tackles with 37, and the Buckeyes have struggled to find a full-time replacement for him at Sam linebacker since his injury in the Nebraska game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Freshman Joshua Perry got the first crack at playing Sam (strongside) linebacker when Sabino went down, but he has been battling his own leg injury over the last few weeks. Sophomore Curtis Grant moved over to give them some more depth at Sam linebacker in practice, but it’s defensive end Nathan Williams who has really filled the void left by Sabino over the last two games.
“I think Nathan’s attitude has been great,” OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.
“His dedication to the football team has been great and so has his dedication to learning and studying, because we’re asking him to do more like play some linebacker and play some defensive end. He’s committed himself to this football team and doing what’s best for the team and we’re happy to see that.”
The same could be said for senior captain Zach Boren, who moved over from fullback to help solidify the Mike (middle) linebacker spot on Ohio State’s defense. Boren already has 21 tackles in just three games since moving over from the offense before the trip to Indiana.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He shared time with senior Storm Klein, who is battling a bulging disc in his back, the first two weeks, but Boren took the lion’s share of the snaps at middle linebacker against Penn State this past weekend and believes he is finally developing some chemistry with sophomore Ryan Shazier.
“The first couple games I was just kind of running around out there,” Boren admitted Monday.
“I felt a lot more comfortable in the game against Penn State and I think Ryan and I are developing some good chemistry. I think we compliment each other really well. He’s more of the speed guy and I bring some power and toughness.”
Meyer said earlier this year that Boren could end up seeing some snaps back over on the offensive side of the ball when Sabino returns from his injury, but that seems like a longshot at this point.
The Buckeyes love what they are getting from tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett right now, and Jake Stoneburner is giving them a few reps at the H-back spot as well. More importantly, the defense has played much better the last two weeks with Boren in the middle.
Bennett Coming On Strong
Another reason the Buckeyes played one of their better games defensively against the Nittany Lions was the re-emergence of defensive lineman Michael Bennett. The sophomore out of Centerville has been hampered by a nagging groin injury for much of the 2012 season, but he certainly looked like a healthy version of himself in State College.
“I think we need Michael Bennett to play like that and even better than that for us to be really good,” Vrabel said.
“There’s different reasons guys aren’t able to go out there at certain times of the year – whether that’s packages that we’re running, a player’s health and just their overall knowledge of what we’re doing.”
After playing sparingly as a substitute in his first four games back from the injury, Bennett was back in the starting lineup on Saturday, but not at defensive end. The Buckeyes went with Williams and John Simon on the outside, with freshmen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington as the subs at end.
They moved Bennett inside to play alongside big Johnathan Hankins in hopes of getting more of a push up the middle against Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin.
“It’s good to have Michael back,” Vrabel added.
“It’s good to get him playing, get him acclimated to being back in there. We need him to do well; we need him to flash that speed and power that he has for a bigger man.”
The Buckeyes seem to be settling in on a more consistent rotation up front on their defensive line. The main players right now are Hankins, Simon, Williams, Bennett, Spence and Garrett Goebel, with Washington, Joel Hale and fellow freshman Tommy Schutt getting some limited reps in the second half.
“The guys up front did a great job all day,” OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said after the PSU game.
“They played extremely hard. It probably showed there at the end when they were worn out those last couple two-minute drives. We've got to close things out a little better, but when you're up three touchdowns you've got to keep bending and make the clock run.”
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