COLUMBUS, Ohio — Logic will tell you that when a football team is relying on freshmen to provide maturity, then they have more problems than just youth alone. Inexperience, after all, is no way to go about finding experience, just as the desert is no place to go and find a nice, cool drink.
Meyer Looking for Maturity From Rookie Linebackers
By Tony Gerdeman
Despite such a contradiction, that isn't stopping Urban Meyer when it comes to attempting to fix his defense.
The situation at linebacker for the Buckeyes has been an area of consternation for Meyer since his arrival, and without All-American Ryan Shazier around any longer, experienced production has become even more scarce.
Meyer understood what his defense would be facing in 2014, and he set out with hopes of finding immediate contributors at linebacker. In fact, he is counting on it.
"Far too many mistakes have been made in either lack of development or whatever and it's just not where we need to be," Meyer said of the position.
"So there's four linebackers who have been recruited: Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker. Four guys. I'm putting pressure on them, Coach Fickell, and myself to get ready for next year. They have to play for us."
Each of the four linebackers brought in have the accolades that you would associate with early contributors. McMillan, Hubbard, and Booker were all rated five-star prospects by one recruiting service or another, and Berger could have found himself there as well if not for a knee injury that cost him his senior season.
In looking for linebackers, Meyer wanted to find players who could see the field right away, and for good reason. Of the eight or so linebackers Meyer signed in the 2012 and 2013 classes, only four recorded tackles last season. And only Joshua Perry finished in the top 12 tacklers on the team.
Transfers have hurt the position, as 2012 signees Luke Roberts and David Perkins have already moved on, and a third appears to be on the way with a 2013 signee. The necessity for production and consistency at the linebacker position is at an all-time high.
Even though Meyer understands that asking freshmen to be contributors can be a risky proposition, he does have a plan.
"There's no redshirt plans for those players at all," Meyer explained.
"We thought about that during the recruiting process. We want mature players. One thing that's common about all four of those guys they're from very good high school programs. Back-to-back state champion down in Moeller (Hubbard), and have a state champion at St. Vincent - St. Mary (Booker) and Raekwon comes from a great high school program down in Georgia."
That's not to mention Berger's football program Cleveland St. Ignatius, which is one of the more well-known programs in the entire nation.
Meyer has been interested in doing a study regarding the relationship between immediate playing time and the success level of a player's high school football program, but he believes he already knows what that study would show.
"The correlation between a young guy playing early and a guy that comes from a championship level program, that means he understands weightlifting and fundamentals of football and winning and the price it takes to go win a game and win a championship," Meyer said.
"Those guys usually play early. And you look at Kyle Berger, Ignatius, and Dante Booker and St. Vincent - St. Mary, and Raekwon, and Hubbard, those are the guys you look for."
Having found the players that he was looking for, the key will now be getting those players the playing time that Meyer is hoping for. He's not asking for a freshman to start for the Buckeyes, rather he's just asking for them to be there when the team needs them.
While the freshmen linebackers may arrive younger than their teammates, they will have the opportunity to grow up very quickly, and the success of the Ohio State defense will depend on it.
What these freshmen may lack in experience, Meyer is hoping they make up for in maturity. That may sound like a contradiction, but no more of a contradiction than the Ohio State defense itself has been of late.
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