Ready, "Willing" and Able, Perry Set to Be Next Man Up at Linebacker for Buckeyes
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The phrase "next man up" is one of football's more cherished sports clichés, and has been tossed around the Ohio State football facilities this spring like a summer frisbee on the Oval.
When it is used to describe how the Buckeyes are going to replace a player like linebacker Ryan Shazier, the words are more hopeful than expectant, however. After all, how does a team go about replacing the sheer amount of production of a Ryan Shazier and not expect some type of drop off?
Those cautiously hopeful expectations now fall to junior linebacker Joshua Perry, who started 10 games last year and has played in 24 games the past two seasons.
Photo by Dan Harker
Perry has a grand total of 69 tackles to his credit in his first two seasons, with just two of those tackles happening behind the line of scrimmage. Compare that to Shazier, who finished with 143 tackles and 22.5 tackles for loss just last season alone, and you can see that the "next man up" has his work very much cut out for him.
A season ago Perry played the strongside linebacker position, opposite Shazier, but now he steps into Shazier's vacated Will linebacker spot, and so far he is finding the new digs to his liking.
"Yeah, I love it, as long as I can be on the field," he said. "It's a little bit new because I was playing that Sam position at the beginning of the year and then Mike towards the end of the year last year."
Perry's new job will find him playing the boundary -- or short side of the field -- now, which will put him closer to the ball, and should lead to quite a few more plays for the 6-foot-4 250-pound linebacker.
While still in its infant stages, the move wouldn't be as effective as it has been without Perry being the type of player who works hard, adapts to change, and simply wants to be on the field.
"He is without question one of the top five most improved players," Urban Meyer said recently.
"The demeanor has always been there. The work ethic has been there. The toughness element is something that has really improved. The love of the game, he's a wonderful guy to coach. He's a much different player."
Perry's improvement has not only come from working hard and doing what his coaches ask him to do, but also through the strengthening of his weaknesses. It's not always fun, but at a position like this one, it's a necessity.
"A lot of times you don't want to necessarily look back and harp on negative things, but you need to take the negatives and your weaknesses and know what they are so that you can make them your strengths," Perry said.
"So I've taken some time and I've done that. Overall, it's just the intensity of the game and playing with my fundamentals that's really changed. When I can do that, I gain confidence to be able to go hard every play."
That confidence began to show itself more and more a year ago as 31 of Perry's 64 tackles last season happened in just the final four games. This spring he is trying to pick up where he left off, and then take it several notches higher.
"That's the thing, I had that comfort level towards the end of the year, to be able to play a little bit faster and go out there and know my assignment and just go," he said.
"Right now we're trying to get that comfort level to where I can just see the play and react. Be downhill. If I need to cover, then I'm going to go cover, but I want to be able to do everything fast and with reckless abandon."
These wants are not just going to happen, however. They will be realized through hard work and improvement. Perry knows that he is far from a finished product, but he also knows where he needs to get better.
"I have to get better at a lot of things," he admitted.
"Playing with great vision, using my hands a lot, just getting an aggressive mentality will help out. Being vocal and being one of those guys who can keep the defense together is always helpful because the more guys you have like that on your defense, the better definitely."
With the improvement that his coaches have already seen in him, it isn't difficult to project what he could become. Perry himself knows the potential that lies inside of him. Now, as the next man up, he's working on bringing every last bit of it out.
"The sky's the limit I think for me," he said.
"Last year I did all right. I got a little momentum heading to the end of the year and I think that's carried over a little bit, but I can't stop right now. I've got a lot of goals I'm trying to achieve, so the more I'm out here practicing hard and getting guys going, the better."
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