2013 Spring Recap - The Linebackers
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last season, the Ohio State linebackers were at the center of an incredibly tumultuous season-long story of intrigue, disappointment, eventual encouragement and, ultimately, the overcoming of all odds.
This year, the hope is for very little of that, and instead what the coaches would prefer is the world's most boring story ever told. "Linebacker starts. Linebacker succeeds." It won't win any literary awards, but it might just win a championship.
This was a very big spring for the linebackers because it was an entirely clean slate. Ryan Shazier, the favorite for the preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is the only starter returning, and he was out all spring as he recovered from hernia surgery. Nobody could claim that they were being held back by a returning starter, because everybody was thrust into the action.
Eventually a top three emerged, with Luke Fickell citing Shazier, Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry as his current starters.
"I'd say Shazier is our Will, Curtis Grant is our Mike and Joshua Perry is our Sam," he said. "From there, we would probably roll with it. Mix some guys around. Find out who is going to be the next guy in. Not a position, but the next guy in."
Returning Starter: Ryan Shazier (Jr.)
Photo by Dan Harker
Ryan Shazier didn't do much of anything this spring, but he was always around, coaching, teaching, learning. He was a source of information and reliance for the young linebackers, and in teaching them, the plan was for his understanding to grow as well.
"The game slowed down from my freshman year, but it was still kind of fast," he said of last season.
"So I feel even next year, with a little bit more experience, it should slow down a lot more. Coach Fickell keeps talking to me about football, and we're watching random games, and just going over offenses will help me a lot more too."
"Ryan is a kid that understands the game of football," Fickell said. "That's what he's doing a better job of, he's learning. He wants to learn the game of football, and not just go out and make plays."
Others Returning: Joshua Perry (So.), Curtis Grant (Jr.), Camren Williams (So.), Luke Roberts (So.), David Perkins (So.), Joe Burger (So.), Craig Fada (rFr.)
Joshua Perry began the spring by working at all three linebacker spots, just so that the coaches could get an idea of where he might fit best. He settled in at the Sam, which is where he played last year, but has the versatility and athleticism to play elsewhere as well.
Photo by Jim Davidson
He showed a knack for finding blitzing lanes, and arrived at the quarterback very quickly. There is a legitimate asthma concern here, however, as he has been pulled from practice because of it several times. He's still learning, but the coaches love the potential that he brings.
"Josh has got incredible upside," Luke Fickell said following the spring practices.
"Josh is just raw. He's a kid that didn't play a ton of linebacker. When we recruited him, you said, 'What is Josh going to be? Who knows?' He's a kid that you know you want on your team. He's a great kid, he's got all of the intangible things, and he's just growing into his body.
"So we put him in some situations where we had to see him play football. Put him in some uncomfortable situations and see if he can react and respond. I'm happy to say that Josh has taken a lot of strides from last year, and I'm looking forward to some big things here in the future."
Curtis Grant began last season as the starting middle linebacker, but soon gave way to Storm Klein, who soon gave way to Zach Boren. This spring the customary delayed reaction that we saw with Grant his first two years was no longer noticeable.
In fact, he was very productive through most of spring. That is, at least, when he was on the field. With the Buckeyes playing very little three linebacker sets, there were fewer snaps for everybody. Without Shazier's injury, the coaches would probably know much less about these linebackers. Still, Urban Meyer liked what he saw.
Photo by Dan Harker
"Curtis Grant is the starting middle linebacker at Ohio State," Meyer said immediately following the spring game.
"I think I announced that a week ago, he solidified that today. He is a fully-engaged player right now, which, I take my hat off to him. He was not that a year ago for whatever reason."
The rest of the existing depth consists of the three scholarship linebackers – David Perkins, Camren Williams, Luke Roberts, and two walk-ons – Craig Fada and Joe Burger. There are also rumors of Perkins transferring, though Ohio State is not confirming or commenting on the situation.
"I think we're still growing," Fickell said of his linebackers. "We're behind where we have been in the past. But that's obvious just based on our numbers and the guys we've got and the youth that we have.
"But I could not complain one bit about how they came out every single day. The things that we grade on a daily basis—the fundamentals, the passion, the energy for the game, their work ethic. They're young, they're behind, but they're some guys that are maturing and stepping up."
Newcomers: Trey Johnson (Fr.), Mike Mitchell (Fr.)
Neither Trey Johnson or Mike Mitchell were in for the spring, but both are highly-ranked recruits with a slew of high school accolades. Of course, high school accolades are not legal tender in college football, so the awards and trophies are pretty much useless.
However, those accolades came for a reason – namely, that these are two very talented players. Where they will ultimately line up is still a question mark. Like Perry, both have the ability to be given a look at multiple positions, though the depth may dictate where they begin as freshmen. The bottom line is that there is certainly the opportunity for early playing time, just as there was last season, and the coaches won't hold anybody back.
"One of the toughest things that happened for Andy Katzenmoyer was the success came so fast," Fickell said of his two freshmen. "You can see in the past, some guys have had success really, really fast and it ends up hurting them in the long run. But you can’t hold a guy back either, so you have to continue to push and it makes everyone around them better."
WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER (WILL)
Ryan Shazier (6-1 222, Jr.)
David Perkins (6-2 228, So.)
Luke Roberts (6-1 234, So.)
MIDDLE LINEBACKER (MIKE)
Curtis Grant (6-3 241, Jr.)
Cam Williams (6-1 231, So.)
Joe Burger (6-1 238, So.)
Trey Johnson (6-1 225, Fr.)
STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER (SAM)
Josh Perry (6-4 243, So.)
Craig Fada (6-0 226, rFr.)
Mike Mitchell (6-4 225, Fr.)
Meyer Identifies Top Spring Performers
Meyer: He’s the Starting Middle Linebacker
Spring Practice Insider: David Perkins One-Ups Rufus the Bobcat
Five for Friday: Buckeyes Who Need a Strong Finish to Spring Practice
Spring Practice Insider: Defense Makes Plays in Defeat
Spring Thoughts on the Defense at the Midway Point
10 Things We Learned from Tuesday’s Hard-Hitting Practice
Shazier Becoming a Student of the Game
Spring Forecast: Middle Linebacker
Versatile Perry Preparing for Anything in 2013
With Pressure On, Buckeye Linebackers Looking for Leaders
Shazier Working His Way Back
Two-Minute Drill: Fickell, LBs Talk After Practice
Replacing Boren First Order of Business This Spring
Spring Position Battles to Watch: Inside Linebacker
Spring Forecast: Outside Linebacker
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