Fickell Looking for Seven Reliable Warriors
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Seven starters.
That’s what Luke Fickell is looking to find this spring as the Buckeyes, early favorites to play for a BCS title, open year two of the Urban Meyer era in the direct glare of the national spotlight.
Fickell is used to this. He has been under pressure before, though not quite like this.
The 39-year-old has coached in three national championship games as an assistant under former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. While the Buckeyes won only one of those games – Fickell was the special teams coach in 2002 – the team’s current defensive coordinator has seen a lot of talent come and go during his 12 years on the coaching staff at his alma mater.
Photo by Dan Harker
One thing he has not spent a lot of time worrying about is the guys who won’t be around this spring to help the Buckeyes in their quest for another perfect season.
“We haven’t really sat back and thought about it a whole lot, to be honest with you,” Fickell said this spring.
“We went through some struggles last year as a team and as a defense. We haven’t sat back and thought, ‘Oh my goodness we lost Johnathan Hankins and John Simon and those guys.’”
It’s not just Hankins and Simon, two of the top defensive linemen in the Big Ten over the last two seasons. The Buckeyes also have to replace nose tackle Garrett Goebel and defensive end Nathan Williams from their starting front line last year.
Photo by Dan Harker
This will be the first time in 25 years when Ohio State will have to replace its entire starting defensive line, but Fickell and line coach Mike Vrabel have a lot of young talent coming back for the 2013 season.
“There’s a lot of guys with a lot of energy,” Fickell said, “some young guys who are really, really exciting.”
After just two days of practice, it is already starting to look like the Buckeyes could have a formidable defensive line again this season. It will start inside with juniors Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, who is expected to replace Goebel at nose tackle, but sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington might the most important pieces to the puzzle.
The situation is a bit hazier at linebacker, and Fickell isn’t ready to start naming favorites in the race to replace senior co-captains Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino.
“There’s a lot of good looking guys in shorts, so we hold our opinions until we get into pads and play some real football,” Fickell said before the players went on spring break.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With Shazier still sidelined by his offseason groin surgery, junior Curtis Grant and sophomore David Perkins were taking most of the reps with the first-team defense on the opening day of spring camp.
Fellow sophomore Joshua Perry will also get a look at both Mike linebacker (where he is competing with Grant) and Will linebacker (where he could fill in until Shazier is healthy enough to return).
There are other guys in the mix, including sophomore Camren Williams, but it’s hard to tell which guys are going to emerge from the pack until they finally strap on the pads and starting playing some real football this week.
“It’s going to be a committee,” Fickell said.
“Shazier, and Curtis Grant’s going to be in there, and Josh Perry and David Perkins and Luke Roberts. There’s a bunch of guys, but until we put some pads on who knows what we’ve really got.”
The Buckeyes will hit the practice field today (March 19) at 4 p.m. ET for the first time since the opening two practices of the spring. Head coach Urban Meyer wanted his team to get a head start before the mid-semester break so the coaches could start putting in the regular spring football hours.
Those first two practices took place in shorts, jerseys and helmets. Tuesday’s workout will be the first day in pads for Meyer and the Buckeyes since they concluded their 12-0 season last November.
That’s a long time to go without hitting, but Fickell isn’t just looking to see which guys are going to hit the hardest during the first few days of full-contact inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“We need to see some guys who make some plays and guys who understand how to play the game of football,” Fickell said.
“That’s the thing we need to get a lot better at. We missed 15 practices not having a bowl game, so our ability to get better at playing the game of football is what we got to do. We have guys who are athletes but they have to learn the game of football.”
Buckeye Practice Notes:
* Tuesday’s forecast calls for 40 degree temperatures with partly cloudy skies. There is only a 10 percent chance of precipitation, but it is expected to rain throughout most of the night.
* The Buckeyes will probably be indoors at the WHAC on Tuesday for the third time this spring. They have not practiced outside yet because of the weather.
* Tuesday’s practice is open to the media in its entirety. We will also get a chance to speak with coach Meyer after the two-hour practice, along with assistant coach Stan Drayton and senior running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall.
* Ohio State will also practice on Thursday and Saturday, but both sessions are closed to the media.
* Former FB Craig Cataline is working with Fickell and the LBs this spring. The product of Grandview, Ohio was a member of the Navy’s security force before he walked on at Ohio State last summer.
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