Void Left By Shazier's Departure Will Be a Large One
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even as a 205-pound freshman, Ryan Shazier was one of the more reliable defenders on the 2011 Ohio State defense. Despite starting just the final three games, he finished with 57 tackles on the seasons, and his three sacks were tied for second on the team. It was clear very early on that he was going to be a difference maker, and in his three years at Ohio State, he certainly did not disappoint.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With the recent announcement that Shazier is forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, the last mainstay of a embattled linebacking corps is now gone, and the chasm left by his departure is immense.
In his time at Ohio State, when there was a play to be made, Shazier was the odds-on favorite to make it. Even if the plays couldn't be made, he was still out there trying his damnedest. Remember him playing against Michigan on one leg as a freshman?
Even though he may have gotten the short shrift from awards voters, those around Ohio State know the impact that he has had in his short time on campus. So what if the Big Ten coaches voted him second-team All-Big Ten in 2012 despite leading the conference in tackles for loss and finishing second in tackles per game, and who cares if the conference's award voters felt that Chris Borland was the 2013 defensive player of the year, despite being dwarfed by Shazier in every single statistical category – including the scoreboard.
The lack of recognition would probably be Shazier's legacy if not for all of the plays he has made in his time in Columbus. Over these last three seasons, the Ohio State defense has had more downs than ups, but Shazier has been one of the few constants.
That constant, however, is now gone, and another one will have to be found. Will the defense be ready for life without Ryan Shazier? Has he left enough residue around the WHAC to help his teammates moving forward?
A defense that was once a concern now becomes an unknown. Sure, the front four looks fine, and the Buckeyes do return a pair of starting linebackers, as well as an experienced cornerback and nickel back, but they don't return a playmaker even close to Shazier's level.
Shazier finished with 143 tackles this season – the rest of the scholarship linebackers finished with 142 tackles combined. Shazier's 22.5 tackles for loss this season is third-most in school history, behind Mike Vrabel's 26.0 in 1995 and Andy Katzenmoyer's 23.0 in 1996. Those are lofty numbers from lofty players, and Shazier was right there with them.
So where does Urban Meyer turn now? Well, a coaching change is always an option, but that's probably a topic for a different day. The mantra at a place like Ohio State is always “Next man up”, and coaching changes or not, that's what will have to happen here.
The only way you can replace a guy like Shazier is through recruiting, and that's something that Meyer has been doing since he arrived. While the 2012 recruiting class was a bit of a wash for him, losing linebackers David Perkins and Luke Roberts to transfer, he does have two additional recruiting classes to bolster the depth come the Navy game on August 30, 2014.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that there will be more linebacker options than Meyer has ever had at Ohio State. There will be no need to tab a fullback to move to the middle, and if injuries strike again next year like they did this year, the depth moving forward will be able to provide a much better answer.
I don't know what the ultimate solution at linebacker will be, but I know there are 11 scholarship players (Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, Trey Johnson, Camren Williams, Mike Mitchell, Darron Lee, Devan Bogard, Sam Hubbard, Raekwon McMillan, Dante Booker, and Kyle Berger) vying for three spots, and regardless of class or experience, the best three will play.
While there may not be a ton of production or experience returning, if the recruiting is working, then talent will trump experience once the opportunity arises.
For instance, James Laurinaitis had a whopping nine tackles as a freshman. The following year he won the Nagurski Trophy as the nation's best defensive player. All it takes is an opportunity, and there will be plenty of opportunity to go around in the next eight months.
After all, an opportunity was all that Ryan Shazier needed as a freshman, and he proved too good to leave the field soon after.
There are options moving forward, but we won't really know what the Buckeyes have until the Silver Bullets start flying. Shazier made his presence known very early on the football field, and more players need to follow his lead moving forward.
Shazier is gone, but that doesn't mean the next great Ohio State linebacker won't be on the field come August. It just means that it will finally have to be somebody other than Ryan Shazier.
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