Linebacking Remains Concern for Meyer and Buckeyes
By Rob Odgen
Earlier this month, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said four different position groups weren't performing up to standards. Five days before the first game of the season, Meyer said there's still one group that's not up to par – the linebackers.
Photo by Dan Harker
"I'm much more comfortable, the area we're still trying to solidify is linebacker," Meyer said Monday. "Just because there's some young guys in the depth and then also Curtis Grant has not really played a whole lot of Mike linebacker. He's catching up quick. He missed a lot of practices because he got injured during training camp but he's going real hard and trying to catch up as fast as he can. That's the only one area that we are a little bit behind."
Junior Ryan Shazier is the only returning starter on a position group that was so whimsical last season that fullback Zach Boren was moved to middle linebacker to provide some late-season stability.
Photo by Dan Harker
Boren is gone now, and there's little experience among his replacements. Even the other two starters, Grant and Josh Perry, have only a combined three career starts between them. The pair combined for only 13 total tackles in 2012.
Aside from the three starters, only sophomore Cameron Williams (three tackles) and junior walk on Craig Cataline (one tackle) made the stat sheet last year.
Shazier said that inexperience is what is currently holding the unit back.
"The only group I'm worried about is the linebackers," he said. "We're not as far along as we need to be."
If defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is as worried about the linebackers as Shazier is, he's not showing it. In fact, Fickell said he has complete confidence in the entire front seven.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"I feel great about it to be honest, I really do," Fickell said. "I really have a lot of confidence in what they have done, what they have shown, the maturity they have shown throughout the camp."
After starting the first three games of the season at middle linebacker in 2012, Grant was relegated to the ranks of reserve, and came off the bench in five of the team's final nine games.
Grant is again slated to be the starter in 2013, but was set back by a concussion earlier in camp. Fickell said the time off shouldn't affect Grant's play.
"For a day or two out there, it was hard on him, but the reality is if that was a freshman that missed ten or so days or ten practices or something like that, you would be much more worried," Fickell said. "I'm not worried about Curtis Grant, because his passion and his energy is what's going to show."
While fielding questions on Monday, Shazier donned a shirt with an image of the famed Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston fight.
The boxer later known as Muhammad Ali personified greatness, something Shazier said the young linebackers should be pursuing.
"He was great and I want this team to be great," Shazier said.
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