Most Important Buckeyes: No. 2 Ryan Shazier

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Last updated: 08/22/2013 5:36 AM
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Most Important Buckeyes: No. 2
By Tony Gerdeman

Ryan Shazier
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ryan Shazier

There isn't a more important player on the Ohio State defense than our No. 2 Most Important Buckeye, linebacker Ryan Shazier. As the leader of an inexperienced group, the pressure will be on his shoulders to keep this unit of linebackers afloat and reliable in 2013.

He is not only one of the two best players on defense, he's also its most productive. Last season, Shazier had an All-Big Ten season with 115 tackles, and he didn't even have a great first half of the season. His 17 tackles for loss were 10th-most in school history. Better than the likes of A.J. Hawk, Na'il Diggs, Matt Wilhelm and James Laurinaitis.

Ryan Shazier
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ryan Shazier

His pick six against Penn State last year energized his team and sent them onto a relatively easy victory. His fourth-down stop of Montee Ball against Wisconsin couldn't have been better timed by NASA. He had several "Wow" moments last season, and he wasn't doing anything he would consider special.

Shazier is on several All-American lists this season, and for good reason. However, he will be playing behind an entirely new defensive line, and he'll have two untested linebackers playing right there with him. Because of this, it might be unfair to expect a duplication of last season's feats. However, Shazier has the type of athleticism, ability and instincts that can make up for less than ideal conditions for a linebacker.

What Makes Him Important

As the team's weakside linebacker, Shazier is more free to run around and make plays. He doesn't necessarily have to take on fullbacks like the middle linebacker, and he doesn't usually have to worry about tight ends trying to lock him up like the sam linebacker does.

He fits this role perfectly because he's extremely fast, which means he can cover a lot of ground, but he's also smart, which means that he's covering the right ground. The Ohio State defense needs some consistency in its front seven, and Shazier provides that.

With Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry slated as the other two starting linebackers, they are going to be relying on Shazier to keep them on the same page. Grant may be calling the defenses, but Shazier will be leading the group from snap to snap.

Every great defense has that one guy who terrorizes an offense from every single angle, and over the second half of the season last year, that was Shazier. Ohio State didn't have a great defense last season, but they certainly had a good start with a player of Shazier's caliber.

What Can Be Expected Of Him

If the past is any indicator, we can expect to see Shazier in the backfield as much as ever. He's a guy who can read a play quickly, and react even quicker. He can chase a play down from behind, or get to it before it even gets a chance to get going.

He averaged 9.6 tackles per game last season, and that's probably where he'll be again this year. It will be tough to match his TFL numbers, however, as offenses pay more attention to him moving forward.

Still, the speed will always be there, and Shazier can get to an edge even before the edge gets there, so he'll always have that advantage over an offense. Of course, this can also lead to a loss of leverage and a cutback lane, which is something that the entire defense needs to be wary of.

Shazier has focused his offseason on gaining a better understanding of offenses, as well as the "why" and "how" of properly attacking those offenses. He is a smarter player than he was a year ago, which will allow him to play even faster than he did in 2012.

What Would They Do Without Him

Panic. Seriously. This defense without Ryan Shazier would be like an Oreo without the filling. The front four would be fine, and the secondary would be fine, but the middle would be destroyed.

Depth has been an issue at the weakside backer spot since Luke Roberts and David Perkins transferred in the offseason, and if something happened to Shazier today, Luke Fickell would have Camren Williams stepping in for him immediately. He, like the two linebackers who will be joining Shazier on the field, have only a smidge of the experience that Shazier has.

If Williams didn't work out, they could turn to a pair of freshmen, or walk-on Joe Burger. Fickell would find the three best linebackers, and then figure out how to get them on the field.

It would not be ideal, but then losing an All-American never is.

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