COLUMBUS, Ohio — How's that for some click bait, eh?
Buckeye Linebacker Situation Should Borrow Page From Michigan Wolverines
By Tony Gerdeman
Half of you are scrolling straight down to the comments to tell me that the Buckeyes don't ever need to emulate Michigan in any sort of way ever. The other half are Michigan fans nodding their heads in agreement with what they haven't even read yet.
But let me please explain before you do anything drastic like comment before reading. Once you do read this, however, please feel free to fill the comments with rivalry banter and hate, because that's the only thing that truly makes me happy.
Rather than inciting people, however, my point is much more innocent. Ohio State will enter the 2014 season with more options at linebacker than they've had in years. My suggestion is simply that they explore every single one of those options.
After all, the only way to find out exactly what you have is to take a good, long look at what's there right in front of you.
So what does Michigan have to do with this?
In their search for linebackers last season, the Wolverines played a half a dozen of them, including true freshman Ben Gedeon. It wasn't always pretty, but in the search for solutions, you have to ask and answer a lot of questions.
Right now, the Buckeyes are beginning that same type of search. Sure, they return two starters in strongside linebacker Joshua Perry and middle linebacker Curtis Grant, but unless their production has made the coaches happy -- and it hasn't -- then they should keep looking until the bliss that they require is upon them.
That bliss could certainly come from the incumbents, but if they aren't pushed and they don't see their minutes threatened, what's the point of even having reinforcements if all they do is watch things crumble?
A year ago the Buckeyes had just three linebackers with more than 15 tackles: Ryan Shazier (143), Perry (64) and Grant (52). They were the only three linebackers to finish in the top 16 tacklers on the team a season ago.
By contrast, Michigan had six linebackers finish with more than 15 tackles a year ago, and five of them started at least two games.
The Wolverine lineup changes were brought on by Jake Ryan's injury and return, and a lack of production, but rather than just accept the issues, Michigan tried to find fixes.
This will be the first year since Urban Meyer has been at Ohio State where there are actually options for his own fixes. In 2012 he had to pluck a fullback to play middle linebacker. Last year he found himself replacing injured linebackers with other injured linebackers because there just wasn't any depth available to him.
But now, now is when things could get very interesting. The Buckeyes are working with seven healthy scholarship linebackers right now in spring practice. That means they can field an entire first and second unit with players who should see the field this season.
The even better news for Ohio State is that they'll be adding three more freshman linebackers in the summer, and Meyer has already said they all need to play.
That's 10 linebackers, each of whom could factor into some type of rotation.
It's an extremely young group, with Grant being the only senior. It is going to be very interesting to see how things shape out. If the Buckeyes are going to get the best out of this group, however, the playing time on defense has to go beyond just the three starters.
There is such a focus on rotation of the defensive line, but with everything asked of linebackers in today's game, it wouldn't be crazy to think that some rotation and specialization at that position could benefit the defense as a whole as well.
The starting lineup right now might be Grant in the middle with Perry at the sam and Darron Lee at the will, but there is no reason not to mix and match.
If Meyer wants a defense that isn't afraid to make mistakes, wouldn't it follow that he'd want Luke Fickell to feel the same way about the players he puts into games?
Sure, he'll know who can and can't handle it, and the ones who can't handle it won't play. But if they can handle it, they shouldn't be locked down simply because they don't start.
Urban Meyer wants to see freshmen like Raekwon McMillan and Kyle Berger on the field, and so should you. Meyer talks about Darron Lee so often right now that I think John Simon might get jealous, but he's got to see the field as well.
There are a number of linebackers on this team who can do different things, so what's wrong with asking them to do those things throughout the course of a game?
Michigan went looking for answers at linebacker last year, and whether or not they actually found those answers is debatable, but at least they went looking.
Ohio State is in a similar situation. They too are looking for answers, and they can no longer look over Ryan Shazier's shoulder for help.
The Buckeye linebackers are now at a crossroads, and the coaches shouldn't just continue to move straight ahead because they're afraid to turn left or right.
Let's see who can play by actually watching them play.
After all, the cream won't rise to the top if it never gets put in the cup.