Forecasting 2014: Linebackers

By Alex on February 18, 2013 at 2:00p

Linebacker was a troublesome position for the Ohio State coaching staff this past year, despite the team finishing with a perfect 12-0 mark.

Fickell is working his recruiting magicLuke Fickell has a deep crop to pick from in 2014

In the middle, Curtis Grant just wasn't ready for the spotlight and Storm Klein, following some preseason legal issues, just was a step too slow on the field. It took fullback Zach Boren coming over from offense to solidify play in the middle of the Buckeyes' defense, and while he did a great job on the fly, there were still some shortcomings.

On the outside, Ryan Shazier had a rocky start to the year, but came on strong in the back half of the season at the WILL linebacker spot. On the other side, at SAM, Etienne Sabino suffered an injury that caused him to miss a good part of the season, and during his time out the Bucks struggled at the spot in rotating DE Nathan Williams and true freshman Josh Perry.

After those events, it was easy to see why the OSU staff went hard after linebackers in the recruiting class of 2013, eventually landing Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, while also bringing in Tyquan Lewis, Chris Worley, and Darron Lee, who could all end up playing the position down the road.

While this year's group was a good haul, Urban Meyer will continue to look for elite linebackers in the class of 2014 and there certainly isn't any shortage of talent when it comes to that area across the country.

After a short hiatus from our "Forecasting 2014" segment to bring you Signing Day coverage, we are back in "target mode" and in this week's edition we take a look at the players left on the board that Ohio State is looking at to continue to bolster the linebacking corps.

Tier 1

Leading the way in Tier 1 for linebackers is longtime Buckeye favorite Raekwon McMillan. The Hinesville (GA) Liberty County star is rated as the nation's top inside linebacker according to the 247 Composite and has gotten OSU fans excited by naming the program his early leader.

McMillan's got Cbus on his mindMcMillan has made multiple trips to Ohio State

Clemson and Alabama both certainly continue to make a strong presence for his services, but already having made multiple trips to Columbus and having two more planned for early April and then the summer (key one, with his parents), I think it is safe to say that Ohio State is in a good spot.

McMillan plans to enroll early and will announce a decision as late as December, but Buckeye fans have reason to feel good at this moment.

Right behind McMillan in the heart of Buckeye Nation is Plainfield's (IL) Clifton Garrett. Garrett is another prospect that has visited Columbus multiple times and is expected back on campus this weekend, coinciding with the Core 6 Showcase in Cincinnati. The nation's second-ranked outside linebacker says he grew up a Buckeye fan, but that doesn't mean he's a done deal to Ohio State just yet.

Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and a few others are all up there for his services, but like with McMillan, I would say it's safe to say that the Bucks have the early lead for this super prospect at the moment.

Another Illinois prospect that has caught the eye of area recruiter Mike Vrabel is Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee High School. The 6-2/225 Morgan is rated as the nation's fourth-best inside linebacker after recording 118 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles in his junior season.

Morgan earned his offer from the Buckeyes back on November 5 and has maintained he has high interest in the program. The key with him will be to look for the visits, as that will show how serious that interest is. Right now he has an impressive list of scholarships that includes Florida, Michigan, Ole Miss, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan State, Notre Dame, UCLA, and others.

One of the top prospects on the board we haven't mentioned yet is the only one in Tier 1 that calls Ohio home. That prospect would be Akron (OH) St. Vincent-St. Mary's Dante Booker Jr., who has said for a long time that Ohio State is the leader for his services.

Many, including myself, think it's a matter of when, not if, Booker commits to Urban Meyer and I wouldn't be surprised if that happened sometime this spring. Booker just saw his teammate Parris Campbell commit to OSU and while they are not a package deal, it has to help that his good buddy could likely be his future college teammate as well.

The last two prospects in Tier 1 are Kain Daub and Dwight Williams. Both are considered "longer shots" to end up in Columbus, but they are excellent talents and will continue to be pursued by the staff.

Tier 2

Tier 2 can be hit or miss depending on the position group, but make no mistake about it that linebacker is one of those that has a group of very talented players in it.

I'll have some fries with my BergerKyle Berger is fast rising prospect nationally

One player I had on the edge of the top two tiers is Cleveland (OH) St. Ignatius's Kyle Berger. Berger, who was a sleeper up until a couple of months ago, already has an Ohio State offer in hand and has stated the Bucks will be tough to beat for his services.

He's maintained that he wants to take visits to Michigan, Stanford, Tennessee, Notre Dame, and a few other schools, but a decision could come as early as April and right now Urban Meyer and OSU have to be considered the front runners for the four-star prospect.

Dillon Bates of Ponte Vedra Beach (FL) is another four-star linebacker with an OSU offer in hand. Bates is the son of former NFL linebacker Bill Bates and was in Columbus back in November when the Bucks took on Illinois.

Right now he says the Buckeyes are high on his list along with Tennessee, Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M, but with a more stable situation in Knoxville, where his father went to school, many think the Vols could be tough to beat.

One of the more recent players to earn an offer is Petera Wilson of Memphis (TN) White Station. Being that the 247 Composite four-star just got his offer last week, little is known on his interest in the Buckeyes thus far, but it looks like there is a large field competing for his services. Wilson also has offers from Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Tennessee, USC, and other top flight programs.

Rounding out Tier 2 are Los Angeles (CA) Bishop Mora Salesian's Jamardre Cobb and Tampa (FL) Jesuit's Vincent Jackson. Cobb seems to have heavy interest from West Coast schools, but has gotten some attention from the OSU staff. Jackson got a visit from the Ohio State coaches in early December, but word is Oklahoma could be the early favorite for his services.

Tier 3

Tier 3 in the linebacker group consists of some solid Ohio talent that has not yet been offered, as well as some regional players that have shown interest in the Buckeyes, but are considered backup plans at this point.

James is a force for SpringfieldOhio State is familiar with Davonte James

In Ohio, the players included are Davonte James, Tinashe Bere, Dorian Hendrix, and Airius Moore.

James currently hold an offer from Purdue and is rated as the 13th top inside linebacker in the nation according to the 247 Composite. Ohio State has been in touch and keeps contact, but it looks like they are just keeping the seat warm for now.

Bere, out of Sycamore in Cincinnati, is another prospect who has skills, but those skills may just be a level below what Urban Meyer is looking for. Bere has been to OSU multiple times and if an offer ever came I think he will jump on it, but in the end I see him landing at another Big Ten program when the time comes to make a decision.

Hendrix hails from Huber Heights Wayne and has a few BCS offers, including his most recent, from Kentucky. Wayne has been kind to Ohio State in the past, most recently with Braxton Miller, but it looks like the Bucks will wait for the next great prospect to come out of the program. 

Moore is a prospect to keep an eye on, as he has the athleticism to keep the interest of the staff. The Beavercreek star has offers from Cincinnati, Illinois, and Indiana already, but thinks some bigger programs could enter the picture after combines and camps this spring and summer. I agree with him and think he is a name to keep in your back pocket.

Finally, out of state prospects that are on the radar, but haven't gotten a bite yet are Detroit (MI) Cass Tech's William White and Gary Hosey, and Indianapolis (IN) Lawrence Central's Brandon Lee. All three are solid players and compete for programs that OSU is familiar with, but at the end of the day I'm not sure if any have the ability to leap the aforementioned players on the big board. Lee appears to have the best chance of the group and could definitely make a move this summer.


Comments Show All Comments

corveyer's picture

Good summary Alex. Do you still think the staff will try to take 4 true LBs? Or 3 with a DE/OLB hybrid making up one of the 4 spots? 

Alex's picture

I think they'll take targets being McMillan, Booker, Garrett, Berger

Ahh Saturday's picture

Alex, we seem to be in good/great shape with all the above prospects. Out of those 4 you just mentioned, who do you think will be the hardest to land?

Alex's picture

McMillan has us in a good spot but EVERYONE in the country is coming after him, so that one will take work to hang on to. Pretty much same deal with Garrett, but being that he is a Midwest kid that situation is a LITTLE better IMO.

b_pbucksfans's picture

Mcmillian, Garrett, Berger and Booker as a DE/hybrid! Would be a epic class of LBer's!

progolfer107's picture

Get McMillan and Garrett, after that it wouldn't matter as much on the others. Very informative article, thanks Alex.

ODEEZ330's picture

If ferns was still on the board what tier would he be? After seeing him live id say tier 2. He is not nearly as good as the tier 1 guys but about the same as berger and bates imo. What does everyone else think?

stark county football

buck-I.8's picture

I think Berger ends up higher regarded than Ferns, wherever he ends up. Bates is hard to read because he plays significantly better competition, but I think Ferns is a bit better.

Alex's picture

I'd probably have him with Berger at the top of tier 1....make no mistake he is a very good player but I think right now a step below McMillan, Garrett, etc.

tarheelbuck's picture

Great writeup Alex.  Thanks so much.  So as it stands right now (long way til NSD) you think we get Kwon, Booker, Garret, and Berger?  I'd take that!

"They hate us because they ain't us" - Sully

73buckeye's picture

I love reading these articles. Makes me almost forget, for a few minutes at least, that it's February and over SIX months to football again.  I had hoped Bucks basketball would be a good diversion, but all it's been lately is a giant frustration. Maybe they need a pep talk from Coach Coombs. 


ARMYBUCK's picture

If by chance way down the road we end up with McMillian, Garrett and Booker and thats all, that would be just fine with me!

Buckeye_TilIdie's picture

I agree. Still would love to get Berger too simply because those skunk weasels are hoping we push him their way by taking McMillan,Garrett, and Booker and pass on Berger ala Derrick Green.

Punks jump up to get beat down.

Alex's picture

I think Berger will be a Buckeye by April or May

Buckeye_TilIdie's picture

Sounds good to me!

Punks jump up to get beat down.

Squirrel Master's picture

I say Garrett, booker and berger. I think Kwon just will get too much pull from the south. 
Alex, can you add links to your other 2014 posts? Some people might not have read your other posts  and they all are excellent reads.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

cinserious's picture

I think first we get Berger, then Booker, then McMillan and Garrett all by the end of the season. After the Vonn Bell coup you can't underestimate the staff's prowess. We've been on top with Kwon for a while now and Urban,Withers and co. will not get complacent with this big fish. Even after he verbals this staff will continue to be in his ear. The awesome thing is Kwon will help reel in a few others from GA as well.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

sir rickithda3rd's picture

i wonder how enthusiastic these guys are about coming with the linebacker haul we have had the last 2 yrs... although, i would imagine these guys aren't afraid of competition

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Buckeyejason's picture

Good stuff. Gonna be tough pickins with all these guys competing for basically 2 spots(considering SAM only plays in certain downs).
Grant, Roberts, Marcus, Williams, Perkins, Perry, Mitchell, Johnson, (2014 freshman) (2014 freshman), (2014 freshman)


Squirrel Master's picture

With Trey and Mitchell, if these 3-4 guys do come on board this year, might not need to switch to a 4-2-5 with the STAR. Guys who may play the SAM, I'm thinking Booker or Marcus, would be so talented that they could stay on the field for all 3 downs. Of course offenses would dictate the alignment but with these players, might not need to switch much. I can see some of those guys you mentioned being able to stick with a TE or play zone coverage.
Just looking at that list and the possible additions just makes you think about how thin that position really was last year and they still went 12-0.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

tdible2132's picture

Found this to be an interesting little tidbit on Michael Ferns.  He's definitely trying to do his part in elevating the rivalry by selling Michigan to other recruits.  Guess it didn't work with Damon Webb though ;)

Squirrel Master's picture

It's definitely going to be a fight but I am curious how this upcoming year will alter that. Like, if UM has a good year, will that help in their momentum being built and/or if OSU ends up as a title contender. If either program falls below expectations, could it vastly impact the struggle between these programs or just stay status quo.
Obviously UM's history as an elite program is helping more than the current mediocrity over the past couple of years. UM really had a chance to take the conference by the horns while OSU was down but now that OSU is back and will be the favorite to win the big ten, will that loss of a window effect UM's recruiting either in this class or future classes.
We definitely shall see but the way things are going right now, UM is right there with these recruits and if Urban lets his foot off the gas for a second, Hoke is ready to move ahead.
I also am not very pleased to know that Hand has UM in the top five and not OSU. I know it is early but if they get him, it would be a crying shame!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!