Linebacker Looking for Leaders

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Last updated: 03/12/2013 9:58 AM
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With Pressure On, Buckeye Linebackers Looking for Leaders
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the midst of searching for two new starting linebackers, and Ryan Shazier taking it easy this spring while recovering from sports hernia surgery, the Buckeyes aren't only in need of bodies, but also leaders.

Losing the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren on defense didn't just provide a personnel hit, it also left the front seven nearly devoid of experience and leadership.

Ryan Shazier
Photo by Dan Harker
Ryan Shazier

The linebackers were a source of angst for much of last season before Boren and a healthy Etienne Sabino finally teamed with Shazier, shoring up an area of great concern.

Shazier is now the lone returning starter on the front seven. Boren and Sabino, both captains, are gone, and their lessons learned are gone with them. The Buckeyes are essentially back to square one.

Much like the unproven wide receiver position a year ago, there are challenges being laid down by the coaches to this group of linebackers, and they're just waiting to see who responds.

"I feel like the linebackers are definitely in that position this year," Shazier admitted.

"Even last year we were in that position, and since the receivers stepped up their game, we have to step up our games because we're supposed to be the key part of the defense."

While his linebacker teammates know they will be able to count on Shazier and his leadership, they also know that they will have to be able to rely on themselves as well.

Josh Perry
Photo by Jim Davidson
Josh Perry

"We've got Ryan, but we can't always count on him," said sophomore linebacker Josh Perry.

"We've got to be able to count on other guys. We've got to have a leader come out, be vocal and be strong."

"They've got to come together as a team," added defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell.

"Communication is a huge part of this. We’re going to have some really good leadership. We’re going to have some leadership that’s emerging, and guys who are going to follow. We’re going to harness the power of the elite."

Much of that elite power will come from Shazier, but with the young linebackers gaining a larger role, it is only natural for some leadership qualities to take hold. The coaches will ask a lot of these players, and it will be evident quickly which of them are up to the challenge of leading, and which ones will end up following.

"It is a lot to put on guys, but I think that's part of the reason why you come to Ohio State," Perry said.

Perry is absolutely correct. This is Ohio State – there are going to be expectations that not everybody is going to be prepared for.

For some, just the act of keeping up with their assignments is plenty, never mind worrying about what anybody else is doing. The knowledge required to be a leader comes with experience, but it also comes with understanding. A player can be a young leader as long as he understands what he is supposed to be doing.

With four sophomore linebackers looking to be counted on, Fickell can't afford to baby his young position group, but he also can't put too much on them too soon. It's a delicate balance that is generally best weighed with hindsight.

That being said, the coaches have their ways of finding out who the leaders are.

"The coaches try to push it on them," Shazier said of lengths that the coaches will go to find leaders.

"But it's not really getting thrown on them because we still have a secondary that is older, and I'm out there too to help out. It's not really getting thrown on them, but it's eventually going to roll on to them."

The cream, as they say, will rise to the top, and it's no different when searching for leaders. When those leaders emerge, the entire team benefits. Just look at the way the Ohio State defense responded last season when Zach Boren stepped in at middle linebacker.

"That's what leadership does," Fickell said.

"Leadership makes others around them better. If you're a great leader, you make everybody around you better. Whether it's by example, or by what you say or what you do. It's the energy and the passion, there's a lot of ways. But it's not just about what you do, if you're going to be a great leader, you better make those around you better."

If the coaches can find their leaders this spring, everything else should take care of itself.

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