Linebacker Projection

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Last updated: 07/16/2014 1:52 PM
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Projecting Ohio State's 2014 Season: Linebackers
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Buckeyes have a tremendous legacy of linebackers throughout the program's history, and while Ryan Shazier continued that legacy the past few years, he mostly did so all by his lonesome.

For whatever reason, the level of play across the board at linebacker hasn't been what it needs to be, and it hasn't been what it once was.

As defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, Luke Fickell needs to fix the issues, and the hope is that a simplified defensive system will do just that.

The linebackers to a man spoke of how much easier it was for them to process this new defense, which features fewer calls. That ease then leads to quicker recognition and a faster defense, which should mean fewer missed tackles and more plays made at the line of scrimmage.

The hope then is that their quickness of recognition will make up for the loss of Ryan Shazier's quickness of demolition.

(The following numbers are based on a 14-game schedule.)

Player Tackles TFL Sacks INTs
Joshua Perry 109 8 3.5 0
Darron Lee 77 7 1.5 1
Curtis Grant 60 5 2 0
Raekwon McMillan 52 4.5 1 0
Chris Worley 25 1.5 0 0
Trey Johnson 15 0.5 0 0
Camren Williams 14 0 0 0
Dante Booker 11 0 0 0
Kyle Berger 9 0 0 0
Devan Bogard 5 0 0 0
Craig Fada 2 0 0 0

With Joshua Perry stepping into Shazier's vacated Will linebacker spot, and Curtis Grant and Raekwon McMillan battling at the Mike, it only makes sense that Perry is the projected tackles leader for the Buckeyes this season.

Perry performed well enough at the Sam linebacker a year ago, but now he will be much more involved at the Will. He will essentially be a designated tackler as the defensive line in front of him occupies offensive linemen with every snap.

I have Darron Lee in the second spot because I have big expectations for him. However, I only have him at 77 tackles because he will be in coverage quite a bit, thereby taking him away from the action. We don't yet know how often he will come off the field on passing downs, but perhaps he will actually be one of the two linebackers who stays out there.

If you combine the tackles of Curtis Grant and Raekwon McMillan, you get a pretty productive middle linebacker. I expect them to split time, but with Grant getting more snaps thanks to his improved play.

If that improved play is just a figment of my imagination, however, there won't be much hesitation to put McMillan in and just leave him there. Luke Fickell has been patient for three years with Grant, so a quick hook as a senior wouldn't actually be all that quick.

Chris Worley is next on the list and I expect him to get some scrimmage snaps all season long. I can also foresee him being an absolute terror on special teams.

The numbers for the rest of the linebackers comes from spot duty and special teams. Assuming there are no disasters, I don't see a need to play both Dante Booker and Kyle Berger this season, but Urban Meyer has already said they wouldn't be redshirting, so we'll see.

I think Booker and Berger both project to the same Will position that Perry excelled at all spring long. They will likely be in a competition with Trey Johnson, and perhaps the third man on that totem pole will end up redshirting.

I do know that Meyer and Kerry Coombs don't want their special teams coverage units to be a let down this season, so they may take an "all hands on deck" approach, redshirts be damned.

What may look like average numbers above actually total out to about 70 more tackles for the linebackers than a season ago. Some of that is because the Buckeyes should be playing a little less nickel than they have in the past, but some of it is also because things may actually be turning around as a whole at the position.

The tackles for loss are down a couple from last year, but you can go ahead and call that the "Ryan Shazier Effect".

The Buckeyes won't be able to replace Shazier, but with an overall improved linebacker group, they should be better equipped to handle his departure than they have been at any time in the past.

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