Boren's Move to Linebacker

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Last updated: 10/17/2012 5:36 PM

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Thinking Out Loud: Boren’s ‘Temporarily Permanent’ Move to LB
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, Marcus Marek, Steve Tovar, Lorenzo Styles, Andy Katzenmoyer, Matt Wilhelm, Anthony Schlegel, James Laurinaitis.

Anthony Schlegel
Photo by Jim Davidson
Anthony Schlegel

The list of impressive Ohio State middle linebackers is as lengthy, tough and distinguished as the program’s history itself. While the Buckeyes have had their share of dynamic playmakers on offense – the latest of which wears No. 5 and plays quarterback – it’s really the defense that has come to define Ohio State’s football program throughout the years.

That’s why it has been so hard for you, the OSU football fan, to accept what you have seen from this defense the last two years. It’s not just bad defense, it’s bad defense at a place that has almost always had good defense.

Last year, it seemed to fit with the overall downtrend of the program in the wake of Jim Tressel’s sudden exodus, but the Buckeyes are back to their winning ways in 2012. They are 7-0 under Urban Meyer, who clearly knows how to run a college football program.

Matt Wilhelm
Photo by Jim Davidson
Matt Wilhelm

It’s scary to think where this team might be right now without him, but it’s also scary to think where this team might be without Ryan Shazier. Is he having a perfect season? Hardly. Shazier is in impressive athlete who still struggles with a lot of the issues he had last year.

He’s so fast he can fly across the field to make a play, but he has struggled to maintain his leverage on some of those plays, where the ball-carries simply cuts back inside as Shazier goes flying by.

But who would the Buckeyes put in there at the Will linebacker spot if they had not been able to snag Shazier away from Florida after Meyer’s retirement following the 2010 season?

Shazier may have a long way to go if he’s going to be the next All-American linebacker at Ohio State, but at least he’s flying around out there making plays with 4-6 seconds of relentless effort. That’s more than can be said about the rest of this defense.

Ryan Shazier
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ryan Shazier

What’s really missing, however, is that one guy in the middle of the defense who can bring it all together. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of issues to go around on this defense. The linebackers have been picked on a bunch, but the safeties haven’t done their job on the back end either.

What I’m talking about though is that James Laurinaitis type in the middle of the field. A guy who knows the defense and has the respect of his teammates in the locker room. A guy who can be a coach on the field, but also a playmaker the team needs it most.

James Laurenaitas
Photo by Dan Harker
James Laurinaitas

That’s what this defense has been looking for since the days of Brian Rolle. He wasn’t the prototypical Mike linebacker, in the mold of a Spielman or Laurinaitis, but he knew how to find the football.

So much of the game on that side of the ball is toughness and instincts. If you’re caught looking in the backfield for too long, it’s over. That’s why a guy like Curtis Grant has not been able to fill the void this team desperately needed him to fill this season.

“Curtis is still trying to pick it up,” coordinator Luke Fickell said Monday.

“Again, there’s a great example of a guy that’s just in his second year. He’s been here a year-and-a-half and he’s still trying to figure it out.”

That doesn’t mean Curtis is a bad kid or a bad football player. Not every guy gets it right from the start, but the truly great ones, the guys who go on to play at the next level and have a long career as a middle linebacker, those guys typically have instincts you simply cannot teach.

It’s more than speed and strength. If that’s all there was to it, Curtis Grant would be an All-American. What you need is a guy who can move from sideline to sideline, but also read a play and fill a gap with fierce tenacity.

Zach Boren
Photo by Jim Davidson
Zach Boren

 That’s something Fickell and Urban Meyer are hoping they can find in Zach Boren.

“Coach (Meyer) brought him over on the inside drills I was like, ‘Wow’,” Fickell said of the fourth-year fullback, whose move to linebacker was made ‘temporarily permanent’ by Meyer on Monday.

“He showed up and even without any coaching – and coaching can be overrated at times – but he gave us a spark and showed us that it’s something he can do.”

Boren was an all-state linebacker in high school and Ohio's defensive player of the year as a senior at Pickerington Central, but it’s still amazing that a guy could play offense for basically four years and step over on the other side of the ball and lead the team in tackles after just a few practices at linebacker.

He didn’t really change the dynamic of the game, obviously, because the defense still allowed 49 points in a 3-point victory, but this move wasn’t about defending Indiana. It was about getting a guy over on that side of the ball at the most important spot on the defense who will give everything he’s got for this football team.

They have a guy like that on the defensive line named John Simon, but there’s nothing quite like a vocal middle linebacker who brings intensity and toughness to the entire group. A guy like Max Bullough at Michigan State, who reminds Mark Dantonio of when he coached Wilhelm in Columbus.

It certainly won’t solve all of Ohio State’s problems – not any more than when they had to put Andrew Sweat at Mike linebacker for the Gator Bowl – but the Buckeyes don’t have a lot of places to turn right now.

Nathan Williams is another guy who could possibly see some time at linebacker this week, but these are moves that may not pay off until down the road, when the Buckeyes face Penn State and Wisconsin.

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