Depth Chartin' 2012: Linebackers

By Jason Priestas on January 13, 2012 at 1:30p
Ryan Shazier: Man ChildRyan Shazier: Man Child

Remember when we spoke glowingly of how dominant the defensive line should be next year?

That's good because if the linebackers perform in 2012 like they did during the 2011 season, the line will once again be carrying the load in terms of run-support and pressuring opposing quarterbacks with a linebacker corps that is atypical for an Ohio State team in that is somewhat serviceable, but nothing near spectacular.

Sure, there were bright spots. Andrew Sweat performed admirably as a senior leader on the unit, finishing with 72 tackles and rebounding from a late season concussion to show his toughness. True freshman Ryan Shazier, undersized a bit for the position at just 212 pounds, emerged as playmaker who has the potential to become one of the all-time greats in Columbus.

But, with all due respect to our friends to the east, when you think of great linebacker play, you think of Ohio State and we just didn't see enough of that in 2011.

Expectations were high, especially for guys like Etienne Sabino, who has been in the program for a while and came to Columbus as one of the top prep linebackers in the country and new linebacker coach Mike Vrabel, who arrived with Super Bowl rings and plenty of praise for his knowledge of the game.

What we ended up with was a defensive tackle and two defensive backs buttressing Sweat in the top four for tackles on the team and a new coach likely learning a lot on his first year on the job, not limited to how best to approach coworkers over philosophical disagreements.

The good news is that the architect of so many of the great linebacker corps in recent memory, Luke Fickell, is now working with the linebackers once again in Urban Meyer's new staff. Depth will be a problem as the team presently has just six linebackers on scholarship -- only three of which saw any significant time at the position last year -- but this is still Ohio State and the linebackers are still expected to be great.

The 2012 Buckeyes will first have to cope with the departure of the man in the middle, Andrew Sweat. Sweat exits Ohio State having seen action in 38 games, starting in 19 of them, including 11 last season. Though he's the only departing linebacker that saw starts in 2011, his experience and toughness will be missed and someone will need to emerge into his roll as captain of the unit, calling plays and handling adjustments.

Senior-to-be Storm Klein backed Sweat up at the Mike spot towards the end of the season but started 10 games himself while Sweat played at Will to start the year and finished 8th on the team with 45 tackles, also chipping in two TFLs, one sack, one interception, a forced-fumble and a fumble recovery. Klein certainly has the size to man the middle, but there are some concerns about his speed and pursuit angles.

The ideal scenario here would be for things to finally click for sophomore Curtis Grant. The five-star recruit from Richmond, VA was considered the best inside linebacker in the country by more than one recruiting service, but had trouble getting onto the field outside of special teams play for most of his freshman season, appearing in nine games on kicks. His season highlight came against the Badgers when he recovered a blocked punt inside the five yard line, setting up a Buckeye touchdown. If Fickell can get Grant ready from a mental standpoint, he has the physical tools to step in and be dominant.

# Name HT/WT Notes
38 Scott McVey 6-0/225 Medical hardship
41 Tony Jackson 5-10/225 Special teamer
42 Andrew Sweat 6-2/238 19 starts
# Name HT/WT YR
36 Connor Crowell 6-1/220 R-FR
14 Curtis Grant 6-3225 SO
35 James Hastings 5-10/220 R-JR
32 Storm Klein 6-2/240 SR
6 Etienne Sabino 6-3/242 5-SR
10 Ryan Shazier 6-2/212 SO
39 Jordan Whiting 6-1/238 R-JR
Josh Perry 6-4/228 FR
Luke Roberts 6-3/230 FR

Shazier will return at the Will spot, which is the perfect position for the ball-seeking Buckeye missile that he is. He started his freshman campaign on special teams, but quickly found his way onto the field at linebacker, eventually starting the final three games of the year yet still finishing 6th on the team with 57 tackles and five TFLs, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a huge punt block in the Wisconsin game. Despite the limited playing time, his TFL and sack numbers were good enough for 4th and 3rd on the team, respectively, so there's little doubt as to why he emerged as a fan favorite.

5th-year senior Etienne Sabino was listed as Shazier's backup at Will, but was also the starter at the Sam spot, so the staff will want to work to find a true backup for Shazier. Look for one of the incoming freshmen to fight their way into the backup spot.

Speaking of Sabino, he's another player that arrived with plenty of hype as a member of the 2008 class, but thus far, hasn't lived up to expectations on the field.

As a true freshman, he backed up James Laurinaitis, but mostly saw action on special teams, where he scooped up a blocked punt against Purdue for the game's only touchdown. As a sophomore in 2009, he saw reserve action, but did little to force his way on the field. As a junior, he accepted a redshirt, hoping to position himself for more playing time and responded with five starts last year, finishing 5th on the team with 62 tackles and 6.5 TFLs (good enough for 2nd on the team).

It's no stretch to say that his career has been a disappointment, but Sabino will have one more season to show what he can do. The light did appear to come on a bit during the Gator Bowl, and he finished the game with two TFLs among quite a few solid hits, so optimism is there for him to have a breakout senior season.

Grant was listed as Sabino's backup late in the year, but if he moves to the middle, one of the freshman, or perhaps Jordan Whiting can step in as Sabino's backup. As a redshirt junior last season, Whiting was suspended for one game for his involvement in the tattoos for merchandise affair, but didn't see any snaps after that point. His status with the team is questionable, though we have not heard anything about his departure.

Hopefully, redshirt freshman Connor Crowell will add depth to the linebacker picture this year after a season missed following surgery to further repair two broken bones he suffered in his left leg as a high school senior. He started fall camp on crutches last year, but from all accounts, should be good to go in 2012. If he's able, look for him to maybe provide depth at the Will spot.

While Meyer has offers out to a handful of linebackers for this class, the two that have committed are talented and have an opportunity to see early playing time.

Olentangy's Josh Perry is a Rivals four-star, rated as the nation's 10th-best outside linebacker. At 6-4/228, he's already blessed with the size needed to play and will only benefit with time in Mickey Marroti's program. A 3.8 student with a 26 under his belt on the ACT, he should be able to pick up the playbook quickly. Of the two freshmen, Perry has the best chance of seeing the field early.

Lancaster's Luke Roberts, a Rivals three-star at inside linebacker has the size as well, and may even be quicker to pick up mental aspect of the college game as he's already registered a 30 on the ACT. Roberts may not immediately see the field, but he follows a long line of linebackers from Lancaster to Ohio State, so he will have some peer pressure to make his mark.

We'll be back next week to look at the defensive backs. In the meantime, pray for Luke Fickell and the linebackers.


Comments Show All Comments

buckeyechad's picture

Should've just put the whole article in a gray box

BuddhaBuck's picture


Don't text while driving.

dan_isaacs's picture


Dan Isaacs

bassplayer7770's picture

Here's hoping we can add two more names to the Incoming list soon...

Matt's picture

A starting lineup of Dorian Bell, Jon Newsome, and Ryan Shazier would have been pretty nasty.  Oh, might have beens.

Jdadams01's picture

Seriously. Also throw Ejuan Price in there. He got a lot of playing time as a freshman at Pitt this year.

Matt's picture

Yeah he caught my eye a few times last season.  Good speed and he can lay the wood.  Oh well, on to the future.

Nick Buckeye's picture

I'll see your Bell, Newsome and Shazier and raise you a Jordan Hicks, Trey DePriest and Shazier. Here's to hoping Grant steps up and Sabino has a carrer year.

BrewstersMillions's picture

In the mid 80's, most NFL guys considered the best backfield in the NFL "Walter Payton and anyone else". I like the idea of the best LB's in the Big Ten being "Ryan Shazier and the other two guys".

My man crush on SHZR is reaching unhealthy levels.

Jdadams01's picture

Ryan Damn Shazier.

tampa buckeye's picture

Perry and Shazier will cover some ground for sure. Hope Grant can step up.

BuckeyeJim's picture

For sure we need Grant or Sabino to step up. They have the most experience and hopefully the leadership this defense will need.

btalbert25's picture

Grant will be just fine

Buckeyejason's picture

That's what people said about Sabino and Bell


GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

I like Luke roberts also, Perry looks tough.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

tampa buckeye's picture

Perry is a freak. 6'4" 240 runs like a deer.

Scott's picture

Ryan Shazier appears to be oddly hairless. He is sporting eyebrows in this picture, at least.

Class of 2008

spqr2008's picture

Shazier just shaves himself bald, that way he's more aerodynamic, and just that much faster. 

Squirrel Master's picture

Shazier can't grow hair cuz when he runs it gets blown off!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Seabass1974's picture

Hair can't grow on steel.

The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. - Woody Hayes

Irricoir's picture

SEC speed has something to strive for!

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

well said.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

bassplayer7770's picture

It concerned me when Shazier was injured and we didn't have anybody who could play better than Shazier at 70%.  It doesn't help that Crowell was injured.  Was Whiting injured?  It would also be nice if Josh Perry steps up and earns some playing time his Freshman year.  Storm Klein never looked fast enough to me.

buckeyeEddie27's picture

SHZR is actualy physically unable to grow hair as it is on fire as soon as it touches air.   its science.

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Northbrook's picture

Hard to argue with scientific facts.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

If Sabino plays the way he did in the Gator bowl Ohio State will be just fine at LB.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Poison nuts's picture

RDS! You big bald bad brutal beautiful beast of a Buckeye you!

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

dancorona5's picture

Sabino has been like Mo Wells...both highly ranked out of high school...both BIG disapointments.

rdubs's picture

Sabino seems more worried getting a big hit than being in the right place.  He is the biggest hitter on the team, but he seems to be out of place more often than not.  If he plays within the defense, he will get more big hits and improve our defense immensely. 

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

add Jamaal Berry.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

rdubs's picture

I think the only reason he has been a disappointment is his off the field troubles.  His play on Saturdays has always been strong.  He also started off the season with an injury.  I tend to discount injuries and off the field stuff in terms of being disappointments because that stuff is always going to be harder (if not impossible) to scout than their on the field play.

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

Mike D'Andrea as well, Ive noticed more 5 stars aare busts nationally than big time players. All you have to do is go to Rivals, and look at the class history.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

Buckeye06's picture

How much is OSU really in a base 4-3?  Maybe one of our young talented safties (cash/tanner) could step in (I'd like to think cash with his size) and play as the Star

SuperBuckFan08's picture

Hearing Cash is transferring.

Because I couldn't go for three.   -Woody-

Jdadams01's picture

Link? This would be a surprise as he's always been big on OSU. Also, he and Shazier are best friends.

SuperBuckFan08's picture

Because I couldn't go for three.   -Woody-

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

It just goes to show that these "Blue Chip" recruits aren't always as good as their recruiting rankings state.  Prime examples....A.J. Hawk and Lil Animal.  They were 3 star recruits coming out of high school and ended up being absolute BEASTS in college AND the NFL.  Etienne Sabino and Mo Wells were highly recruited 5-star prospects that didn't do squat.  Now Sabino can still prove us all wrong with a stellar Senior campaign (and I hope he does) but Mo Wells was terrible.

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

Robert Rose was supposed to be a badass. Wore a single digit because he thought he was a skill player. what a bust

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

Jdadams01's picture

With Rose, it always seemed to me that the effort and attitude were lacking, not the talent.

CGroverL's picture

We Buckeye fans are worse than spoiled. Not too long ago, it was nearly impossible for a true freshman to see the field as a Buckeye. It seems that nowadays we all just overlook the "true freshman" thing and look purely at their size, speed, or how good a scouting service says that they are and expect them to all be Chris Spielman or Mike Vrabel.

Linebacker play was down a bit from recent years but Etienne Sabino wasn't as bad as most of us Buckeye fans made him out to be in 2011. The kid was 5th on the team in tackles and 2nd on the team in tackles for loss. Sure, he got plenty of playing time but he only had five starts. In my opinion, if Luke Fickell was handling the linebackers, Sabino may have lead the team in tackles and been thought of as better than Andrew Sweat. In comparison, Sweat had 72 tackles and Sabino had 62. Anyway, I think that Sabino IS as advertised, but he just took a while to show his toughness. I also think that he will be a defensive leader next year and we will all be very thankful for him taking that redshirt. It just seems a bit strange that Sweat was considered a "bright spot" with 72 tackles and Sabino is a "disappointment" with 62 tackles while being 2nd on the team in the TFL category as well. I realize that Sweat played in the middle and the comparisons may be a bit unfair. I'm also not saying that Sabino was the 2011 Big Ten defensive player of the year. I just think that he played well enough for Buckeye fans to EXPECT a huge year out of him in 2012.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



Buckeyejason's picture

Let's face it Sabino just doesn't have IT! It's going to be his 5th year in the program for goodness sakes. Shazier does have IT! You either have it or you don't and I don't think Sabino has IT.


The Vest-er's picture

So uh yeah, that title ix story got outta hand, huh?

Fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.

Michael's picture

Title IX is a touchy subject. But can anyone please tell me about this Title XI that Pam kept referring to?

The Vest-er's picture

Correction: out of hound


Fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless.

RBuck's picture

With the shortage of LB's, I wonder if Rod Smith could make the permanent jump.

Long live the southend.

Rather_Be_Golfing's picture

Nice recap and what the future looks like for OSU defense.  I would suspect with Luke's focus back on Defense, Coach Meyer and what he will bring, along with the other 'Fresh' thought leaders on the coaching staff, we will once again have 11 Silver Bullets flying around, making plays...


Go Bucks!!!

Buckeye06's picture

Man I really really liked Jeremy Cash; I think this is def. an Urban Meyer thing though.  Meyer went hard after him if i recall out of high school so there may have already been something he didn't like.


Wish the kid luck, but man I loved the way this kid talked about the buckeyes when he committed; just weird

Nerkbuckeye's picture

Storm Klein has been a real disappointment and maybe a lot of that has to do with being from Nerk, especially the way he was hyped--maybe they should have used him as a fullback. 

His speed and attack angles were very suspect from what I saw this year  - he looked like he was dragging a dead body behind him.

Jdadams01's picture

Amen. I think the only reason he played this year was because of lack of depth.

thatlillefty's picture

most fun i've ever had at a football game was watching Ohio State play Notre Lame at the '06 Fiesta Bowl. Back then we had AJ Hawk, Bobby Carpenter & Anthony Schlegel.

What a trio that was.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Can we get a SF Buckeyes vs NO Buckeyes thread? Personally I'm pulling for the Wine & Gold but not sure they can stop that guy from Purdue.

Squirrel Master's picture

don't really care who wins but I would love it if Teddy Ginn would blow up in his first playoff game. :)

of course, as I type that he gets his first catch. does that qualify for him blowing up? lol

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Donte knocking fools out.

rdubs's picture

Donte is blowing up, the Saints offense.  Might have to reattach Pierre's head after that one.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

He's having a great game

capn's picture

i Agree with Nerk, Klien does not have that lateral speed the you have seen from past LBs. Put him at FB.... Bring Grsnt up to Speed

Capn, Make It So...

zbd's picture

Linbackers are the weak link in the defense.  All the so-called high school stars disappear.

Bobcat04's picture

There's no thread on this, but as a Saints fan, I'll say it: Malcolm Jenkins has killed the Saints today. He got absolutely toasted by Vernon Davis on two consecutive drives today. Both were critical to the game. I love Malcolm, but he really showed his ass today. Can't cover a tight end to save his life. Hello, pink slip.

Jdadams01's picture

Doubt it. Everyone considers Jenkins an above average defender. Every secondary player gets toasted sometimes, especially by athletic freaks like Vernon Davis.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Vernon Davis > Jimmy Graham -- Most FS can't cover Vern.

dgrubbs's picture

Speaking of TEs, Hernandez is looking great tonight, as usual. I'm stoked to see what Urban can do with Stoneburner.

AGL's picture

Still on Sabino bandwagon, this year will be his last audition for his NFL future, hope he shines in his final year w/Bucks.  SHAZIER=TAZER,  possible t-shirt ?  hope he recovers well from injury.  Can not imagine the havoc  of a lb trio consisting of a healthy Shazier, inspired Sabino and the potentially awesome Curtis Grant could create.  Looking @ Shaziers early enrolment last year makes me wonder what if Grant did the same.  Didn't TOSU have one of the best LB recruiting classes last year.  Shazier,Grant, Crowell ?  Hope Conner is rehabbing well and gets into the mix.