Battle at middle linebacker

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Last updated: 03/11/2014 2:06 AM
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Battle for Middle Linebacker Job is Collaborative Effort
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are few more storied positions in Ohio State football history than middle linebacker. In fact, there is probably only one. The history that has been made over the last few years at the position, however, is not something that most would want to remember.

The Buckeyes haven't had a First-Team All-Big Ten middle linebacker since Brian Rolle in 2010, and if they fail to have one in 2014, it will be their longest such drought in over 40 years.

Brian Rolle
Photo by Dan Harker
Brian Rolle

One of the reaons the position has been held back of late is because there just hasn't been the level of competition that the spot requires. Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell are hoping that changes this season, and if it does, then things could be getting back to normal in Columbus at linebacker.

Right now the race to start is being run between incumbent Curtis Grant, veteran reserve Camren Williams, and ballyhooed freshman Raekwon McMillan. Competition will make everybody better, and each of the three are working together to make sure that happens.

"Spring ball is competition," said Grant. 

"We've got good guys in the room so there's always competition. If you don't come out here and approach it like that, you're going to lose your job."

The three players vying for the middle linebacker position present an interesting mix, though the two players getting the most attention right now are Grant and McMillan. There is still junior Camren Williams, who is currently repping behind Grant and in front of McMillan. The attention that others are receiving at the moment isn't deterring Williams, because he knew what he was getting into when he became a Buckeye.

"This is what you come here to do," Williams said matter-of-factly. 

"This is Ohio State. I didn't expect to just come here and have a bunch of no names behind me. I expected Raekwon McMillans and Curtis Grants and Joshua Perrys and all of those kind of guys. This is why I came here. This is a really fun experience and a really fun time."

Despite his accolades and the expectations that he would see the field early, McMillan knows that the same fate awaits him. He also knows that nothing happens without work.

"Coach Meyer told me if I come here, nothing's going to be given to me," the true freshman said back on Signing Day. 

"I have to compete just like everybody else. Yes I have a good chance of starting but it's all going to go to waste if I don't work right now. You gotta come in the weight room smiling everyday, you've got to come on the field ready to work every day, give it your all, open up your chest, give the coaches your heart and let them train you."

So far, the coaches are liking what they are seeing. Even after just one practice, Meyer was excited about how things had gone for McMillan.

"I was really impressed with Raekwon today," he said. "He did a really good job. He moved around and is very mature. For a 'shorts' practice he did enough that I feel very positive of what I saw."

McMillan is also impressing his teammates, which brings about one of the more interesting juxtapositions of any camp. Grant, who started 12 games a season ago, is now not only in the position of competing for his job, but also helping his competition along.

"Raekwon is like my little brother," Grant explained.

"So whatever he needs, we always communicate and I always try to tell him this is how you should approach things and think about it. I try to give him a two-way go and let him make his own decisions because it's all about what he feels comfortable with. I just tell him to take coaching and do everything I didn't do so when it's your time to shine you can go play."

This is how a position improves, through competition and cooperation. Oh, and a little bit of a talent doesn't hurt either.

For the first time in a long time, one of the more important positions on the football field won't be won simply by default. There are enough options that a spot will have to be earned. This fact alone should portend better days ahead for OSU linebackers. 

Will those better days also include an All-Big Ten performer? 

Only if everybody works together to make it happen.

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