Five-star Middle Linebacker Prospect wants to Help Shore Up OSU Defense
By John Porentas
On the off-chance you hadn't heard, the OSU defense was pretty bad last year, and the linebacking situation was especially not good.
It was that way the year before, too.
Buckeye nation has lost patience and wants either fixes or scalps. I know this because I read the-Ozone message board and look at the comments on the-Ozone articles, and those people have had it with the OSU defense. They want new faces on the field and changes in the coaching staff, anything it takes to field a reliable, hard-nosed defense, and they want it done NOW!
When the season ended Urban Meyer made staff changes. Oh, it looked like guys moved on to further their careers, but it's a pretty good guess that in at least one case Urban Meyer A) assessed his staff then B) suggested that certain people move on. To be a little more specific, it probably is not likely that Meyer asked Mike Vrabel to move on, but after that, all bets are off. You can also probably assume that he's satisfied with the people that are still around, because it's pretty likely that Meyer is even less patient with lack of on-field success than anybody else either following or involved with the OSU football program. The man wants to win. Period. If he thought he had a weak link on the coaching staff, that link would have been removed this year.
There have been coaching changes, and now it's spring and time to start looking for answers about players, especially linebackers.
One possible solution at middle linebacker is stepping forward in the person of a five-star talent that has the potential to help turn a mushy defense into one that is rock-solid.
Don't throw stones at your screen when you read what follows.
It's Curtis Grant.
Like Raekwon McMillan, the guy you were sure I was going to mention, Grant was a five-star, can't miss prospect when he came to OSU. To be honest, to date he has been a disappointment, one of a string of looks-like-Tarzan-plays-like-Jane linebackers that the Buckeyes have put on the field over the last few years. He has been average at best, below average at times at worst.
So why suddenly believe that he can finally swing from the vine and be the Tarzan we all hoped for? Because of Raekwon McMillan.
Both Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell have talked about McMillan's potential and the need try to make things easier for him as well as other young linebackers to get on the field. To that end, Meyer wants to simplify OSU's defense, so the youngsters like McMillan can play without having to over-think every play.
“I think that's where it's gotta start," said Fickell.
"Offenses, in everything they do, make you prepare for every single thing. I think as you look back at it, that's the hard development of a lot of young guys when you've got some stuff that you've got to adjust to everything and what we see on a daily basis.
"So the idea is to go straight back, go back and simplify things and we're gonna have a lot of young guys and be able to go out and play fast.”
While that idea may be aimed at McMillan and other youngsters like Darron Lee and yet-to-arrive Kyle Berger, the returning veterans will also benefit from that same policy.
"It's very tough, but the way we changed things around it's a lot simpler, so basically for a guy like him (McMillan), coming into a thing that's a lot more simple than complex, it's a lot easier to catch on," said Grant.
"We just get to the ball now. We're into people's faces and we just try to get to the ball. It's not as complex as it was. It's a lot more simple."
It's all supposed to lead to what Meyer likes best in a football player, playing fast, something Grant has not been able to do in his career.
"The easier it is for us, the less thinking we have to do, the faster we play," Grant said.
"The more simple it is, the less thinking as a middle linebacker that you have to do, it's you're like the quarterback of the defense, the less checks the quarterback has to make the lot more fun it is and the more you can just play and not worry."
Was the system too complicated for Grant before?
"I guess I could say that," he said.
The inability to grasp the system has kept a number of players off the field in the past. Etienne Sabino comes to mind as a linebacker who arrived at Ohio State with a lot of hype but never produced until his senior year when the light finally went on about "the system".
Meyer's philosophy, and presumably now the philosophy of Fickell and Chris Ash, is that getting players with talent on the field is more important than saddling them with a complex defense designed to prevent every big play. It's the old paralysis by analysis paradox, and Meyer has said that he can live with the occasional mistake that leads to a big play if he can get players on the field who at least have a chance to make a play on every down. That's why both Meyer and Fickell are so excited about McMillan.
"You can see a guy that's got a lot of natural instincts, stuff that you're excited about," said Fickell.
"You kind of hold your breath. Coach keeps coming over to me, and I say I'm just going to hold my tongue until we put on some shoulder pads and get out of the underwear stuff. But you know what, you see what you saw from film. You see what you saw in high school when I went and watched him play. Now we just can't slow him down.”
That sounds like Fickell is already leaning toward McMillan, but he went on to add the following when talking about Grant.
“I think he's refocused. He's a guy that's refocused.
"We need senior leadership, and you can say what you want, but you're best when your seniors play best. I don't care if we've got six starting sophomores or seven starting juniors, the reality is you're best when your seniors play best. You can evaluate all of the years that I've been here, and when your seniors play really good, you're going to have a good season.”
In a perfect world, Grant will have that best season, and McMillan will have a chance to get his legs under him as a college player while contributing on special teams and in spot duty. Yes, even five-star players need time to develop. Grant recalled his own experience as a high-school phenom trying to make the jump to college ball.
"Everybody expects you to just be an unstoppable guy," he said.
"What they don't understand is that it takes time. Coming out of high school and then playing with grown men is totally different. Your body, and just mentally, a lot of people think faster and are a lot quicker than you are so you have to get a chance to get adjusted to that. Once you get adjusted to it you'll be fine."
Simplifying the defense will help McMillan with that adjustment. It will help Curtis Grant too, so don't get mad about somebody saying that Grant can still be factor. It's better to have two effective five-star linebackers than just one, isn't it?