Breaking Down Urban’s Depth Chart: Inside Linebacker
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — So far, we have covered a number of key offensive positions for the Buckeyes in our post-spring breakdown of Urban Meyer’s first-ever depth chart at Ohio State, so let’s move over to the defensive side of the ball.
Meyer and the Buckeyes actually released an updated depth chart on Tuesday. There weren’t many changes—only one in fact. Ohio State has removed linebacker Storm Klein after he was dismissed from the football team following an arrest for domestic violence.
With that position in the foreground, we decided to break down the inside linebacker position heading into fall camp.
Photo by Dan Harker
Pre-spring pecking order: Storm Klein slightly out in front of Curtis Grant and Etienne Sabino.
We didn’t know for sure which linebackers would be where in the spring, but one guy who was pretty securely slotted at middle linebacker was Storm Klein. The senior out of Licking Valley did not have great season for the Buckeyes a year ago, but he did start 10 games last season.
That was with a depleted linebacking corps, and when the group was healthy, Luke Fickell and Jim Heacock opted to go with Andrew Sweat at Mike linebacker in the Gator Bowl, which allowed freshman Ryan Shazier to start at the Will (weakside) linebacker spot.
Fifth-year senior Etienne Sabino looked to be slated outside after playing both positions a year ago, and no one knew what to make of Curtis Grant after a very rocky freshman season in Columbus.
Post-spring depth chart: Grant over Klein and Connor Crowell.
Photo by Dan Harker
It didn’t take long for Curtis Grant to show he had put his rough start behind him. The sophomore out of Virginia admitted he was in a dark place last year, and even that he considered walking away from the game because of his struggles.
Faith and family helped Grant find his base, and somewhere along the way he remembered how to play the game like a 5-star prospect. He was ranked No. 2 overall in the class of 2011, and Grant looked the part in the spring.
He is a herculean figure on the field, and finally started to play fast for Fickell, who is back to coaching the linebackers this season. Grant spent the entire spring working with the first-team defense until a stinger sidelined him for the final week.
Part of that was due to the injury to Klein, who missed most of spring practice after injuring his knee in the weight room during the off-season. Regardless, Grant seemed to have a stranglehold on the starting position before Klein was even dismissed from the team.
Redshirt freshman Connor Crowell emerged as a capable backup in the spring, and freshman Luke Roberts is a guy who will probably slide inside and spend at least some of his time at middle linebacker during fall camp.
Who is missing?: There were a lot of guys missing from the linebacker room this spring, especially from the class of 2009. With Klein on his way out, the Buckeyes no longer have any linebackers from that recruiting class on their roster.
Dorian Bell and Jonathan Newsome were gone before last season, and Jordan Whiting opted to transfer to Louisville before the start of spring ball.
As for the missing players who will be available this fall, the Buckeyes add a trio of talented backers to the mix from the 2012 class. That includes Camren Williams and David Perkins, but Jamal Marcus is probably the only one from the group who could end up inside.
Preferred walk-on Joe Burger should give them depth wherever they need it.
Susceptible to Change or Set in Stone: Rather set heading into the fall.
The departure of Storm Klein all but eliminates any real position battles at linebacker heading into the fall. It’s possible Marcus, Williams or Perkins could surprise people the way Shazier did a year ago, but the top three guys are probably set heading into the season.
Overall prognosis: This is a group that drastically underperformed a year ago under Mike Vrabel. Until Shazier moved into the lineup, nobody was playing at a high level, except maybe Sweat.
That has to change in 2012. The emergence of Curtis Grant in the middle will be the key factor for this group, but they still have very little depth—at least experienced depth. Nobody behind Grant, Shazier and Sabino has played a single down of meaningful football.
That is a scary proposition for Fickell, who has developed some very fine players at the position over the last decade. He has some good young talent to work with, but the dropoff behind Grant inside is drastic at this point.
Urban's take: “(Curtis Grant) kind of overanalyzed everything a year ago. He didn't play very fast. I don't want to say ‘depressed,’ but he wasn't enjoying football. And when you're not very confident, you're not playing fast. He had an excellent offseason, so he's a guy that has to develop. We have no choice. He has to be a player for us. If he's not, we've got problems.”
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: QB
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: RB
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: FB
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: WR
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: TE
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: OT
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: OL
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