Most Important Buckeyes: No. 14
By Brandon Castel
Photo by Dan Harker
Not everyone thinks as much of No. 14 on our countdown of the 20 Most Important Buckeyes for 2013 as I do, or else they would have had Curtis Grant a lot higher on the list. Personally, I had the junior linebacker in my top 7 for the upcoming season because I think it’s that important for the Buckeyes to find a steady middle linebacker to anchor the defense.
My colleagues would probably argue that Grant isn’t as critical as some other guys on the roster because there is more depth at linebacker this season and the Buckeyes will probably play more nickel defense, which only requires two linebackers. They’re going to assume Josh Perry is ready to be that second guy across from Ryan Shazier, but I’m not so sure.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Perry’s potential, but this team desperately needs a leader at the Mike linebacker spot. They wouldn’t have gone undefeated last season without one. They tried a bunch of different options at linebacker, but it wasn’t until Zach Boren emerged as the man the middle that the Buckeyes finally started to slow down opposing offenses with any type of regularity.
What Makes Him Important
Everyone is going to point to the arrival of Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, and I’m a big Camren Williams fan, but this is an absolute make-or-break situation for Curtis Grant. Let’s not forget this was the No. 2 overall prospect in the country back in 2011. He was slated to be the team’s starting middle linebacker last season, but now it’s desperation time.
Meyer has done a tremendous job restocking what really was a bare cupboard that he inherited at linebacker, but it’s going to take some time for them to develop some of these guys. Very few come in ready to play in this system. Not everyone can be James Laurinaitis, not even if they are ranked No. 2 in the country. But the time is now for Grant. They don’t need him to be James Laurinaitis, but they do need him to become a playmaker for the defense. They also need him to become be a leader, which means he has to put what happened last season behind him completely.
“We wouldn't have recruited (him) if we didn't think (he) had the ability to play,” Fickell said this offseason.
“But how they learn, how they react, how they respond, is what you don't know. Some things happen faster for others. Ryan Shazier, things happened really fast for him. For Curtis Grant, things have not happened as fast for him. But you have to be able to handle those situations.”
What Can Be Expected Of Him
Truthfully, it’s too early to tell. This time last year we thought Grant was ready to be the guy manning the middle of the Ohio State defense. That theory carried us all the way through camp, but it didn’t get the Buckeyes very far once the season started. Grant lost his starting job to Storm Klein, a guy who wasn’t even on the roster in fall camp, and he was barely heard from the rest of the year.
Maybe he learned from that experience. He says he has. John Simon told me he has seen a change in Curtis Grant since then, but we won’t really know for sure until the 2013 season really gets rolling. I had Grant much higher on this list because if he bombs out again like he did last year, I’m not sure this 2013 defense is built to handle the consequences. It’s a young group on the front line this time instead of a veteran group anchored by Simon, Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins. It’s also a group of defensive backs who, other than Bradley Roby, have yet to prove they can be as consistently as good as they look.
Someone outside of Shazier has to emerge from that linebacker group if the Buckeyes are going to be a championship-caliber defense in 2013. If not Grant, then who?
What Would the Buckeyes Do Without Him
It’s a good thing the Buckeyes have some other options at middle linebacker, if for no other reason than to challenge Grant for that starting spot during fall camp. By his own admission, he got complacent last year after he was basically handed the starting middle linebacker job. If that happens again, he probably doesn’t get another shot.
Without Grant, however, the Buckeyes would have to look at a few different options. We will see how Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell progress, but even Shazier didn’t really come on until the end of his freshman season.
It’s a shame David Perkins didn’t stick around to see this thing play out. That’s not to say Perkins makes a lot of sense at the position Grant plays, but he was taking first-team reps in the spring on a defense with basically one experienced linebacker.
The two guys who make the most sense are Josh Perry and Camren Williams, but there is no Zach Boren anywhere else on the roster. If Curtis Grant can’t be the guy this season it leaves Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell scrambling yet again. They may be all right from a talent standpoint if they have to turn to Perry or Williams, or even one of the freshmen – though I’m not sure 29 practices is enough to get them ready for what is coming this season – but this team needs Curtis Grant to be something more.