The War at Linebacker

By Chad Peltier on February 26, 2013 at 5:00p
42 Comments
RDS is celebrating with the "H" in O-HThe only definite starter at linebacker next season is RDS

While we may be eager to see the addition of Urban's incoming playmakers on offense, the most important spring practice depth chart battles might be at linebacker. 

 
 

With Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren both moving on to bigger and better things, there is a lot of opportunity for young guys to step up and seize a starting position. Shazier may have one linebacker spot firmly locked up, but that leaves roughly five other slots in the two-deep completely up for grabs. 

There is undoubtedly a lot of talent at the three linebacker positions (Will, Mike, and Sam), but there is little game experience. Below is a chart of the scholarship linebackers on the roster for spring practice: 

Curtis Grant 6-3 235 JR
Jamal Marcus 6-2 225 SO
David Perkins 6-2 220 SO
Josh Perry 6-4 238 SO
Luke Roberts 6-1 226 FR
Ryan Shazier 6-2 230 JR
Camren Williams 6-1 225 SO
Tyquan Lewis (LEO) 6-3 223 FR

The linebackers made roughly 31% of the defense's total tackles in 2012. Excluding Shazier, the returning Buckeye linebackers combine for just 4% of the defense's 2012 tackles and 12% of the linebackers' total tackles. To make matters worse, most of those tackles were made by guys like David Perkins and Jamal Marcus on special teams! 

The 2013 linebacker corps will be extremely talented and extremely green – perfect for spring competition. Below I examine how the battle might play out for each of the three linebacker spots. 

Will

Shazier has obviously established himself as the only returning starting linebacker on Ohio State's roster, bringing a team-high 114 tackles (69 solo), 17 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks over from 2012. 

1 Ryan Shazier JR
2 David Perkins SO
3 Jamal Marcus SO

It's no exaggeration to say that Shazier enters spring practice as the top player on Ohio State's defense and one of the elite three to five linebackers in the country. 

His likely backup is David Perkins, who was (along with Jamal Marcus) a special teams standout in 2012 with six tackles in nine games. Perkins was recruited by some schools to play running back and brings similar speed to the Will position. While the Mike and Will positions were somewhat flipped under Tressel, "Boom" Perkins and Shazier bring ideal sideline-to-sideline speed to the Will position. 

I don't think the Will depth chart will change very much over the spring, unless one of the Sam guys like Jamal Marcus flips over to Will. The staff won't hesitate to experiment early on, but they also understand that it is important to solidify players' positions as early as possible so that they can get experience with reads and coverages. 

Even if the '13 LBs are only equal to the '12 LBs, the DL will be lights outOhio State's base defense, with Will, Mike, and Sam

Mike

The most competition might actually be at middle linebacker – specifically between Curtis Grant and Camren Williams.

A 4-3 middle linebacker is typically larger than the outside linebackers and has to be capable of fighting off inside blockers, plugging holes, and stopping bigger running backs on inside zone and power plays.

However, the proliferation of spread offenses throughout college football has meant that even Mike backers must be at least quick (if not fast) and decisive in their reads. Storm Klein and Curtis Grant both struggled with these tasks last season, but all reports are that Grant has done everything necessary to learn the position and play more instinctively.

1 Curtis Grant -OR- JR
2 Camren Williams SO

Grant's primary challenger is likely Camren Williams, who is a little smaller and quicker at the position. Williams saw limited time last season, so it's hard to really get a good read on his abilities.

Williams was actually listed by some recruiting services as both an inside linebacker and a wide receiver, which indicates just how much athleticism Williams brings to the linebacker position. While we didn't hear as much about him as the season went on, both coaches and players alike raved about Cam's potential at Mike. 

However, I don't think a clear starter will emerge at Mike by the end of spring practice, so we may have to get used to the "OR" for a while. 

Sam

Josh Perry only recorded five tackles last season, but he stands out as having recorded them while actually playing linebacker rather than on special teams.

1 Josh Perry SO
2 Jamal Marcus SO
3 Luke Roberts FR

As Ross has argued before, linebackers face a lot of pressure to be one of the top two linebackers overall, because it likely means the difference between playing 100% of snaps to just the 40% that the Sam backer is on the field. This is because Ohio State has gone to their nickel formation – with the STAR coming on and the Sam backer going off – more often than not against spread offenses. 

Ohio State was able to compensate for a deficient Mike by staying in nickel and having Sabino sliding to the middle early last season. When Sabino was injured and Ohio State did go back to its base 4-3 under, Josh Perry was the first guy off the bench. Perry had more experience by enrolling early and is just a physical specimen at 6-4 and 238 pounds according to the official roster. 

Perry's primary challenge might not be fending off the other Sam guys, but just proving that Ohio State should stay in base defense in the first place. If he's one of the top two linebackers then it is possible that he works his way over to middle linebacker, but I think he'll show enough promise to force Fickell and Withers to operate more out of the base 4-3 and stay at Sam. 

Jamal Marcus still has one of the top high school highlight videos I've seen and absolutely tore it up on special teams last season. Special teams were a perfect fit for Marcus last season because he came in a little raw, but Marcus has been described as one of the highest motor guys on the team. Last season Meyer said that 

"We have sayings around here like, 'Point A to Point B as fast as you can go.' There's a kid named Jamal Marcus, he doesn't know which way up is right now, but he knows from Point A to Point B and he'll run over anything in his way to get to Point B. There's a good chance we'll find a way to get him on the field." 

This spring should be a good indication as to whether Marcus has found "which way up is." If he has learned the position – when to drop into coverage, how to read the offense, how to take the right angles – then Marcus has the physical ability to compete for a starting spot at Sam or the backup spot at Will. 

Conclusion

Beyond Shazier at Will, the only absolute is that Ohio State returns an immense amount of inexperienced talent at linebacker. I'm not sure if we've seen such an athletic group of linebackers in years, as evidenced by the amount of guys who were also recruited for offensive skill positions.

This spring will be absolutely key in seeing not only further physical development, but also which guys have been watching film and truly learning their positions over the offseason. That will be the key throughout the spring and summer – all of these guys are athletic, but the most mentally prepared will earn slots in the two-deep. 

The staff won't be afraid to move guys around early on in the spring, with David Perkins, Jamal Marcus, and Luke Roberts all able to switch between Will and Sam. The key will be in identifying the top two guys and then seeing if the starting Sam is good enough to warrant more time in the base 4-3 defense. 

Of course, nothing is guaranteed as even the top two at each position will have to fight off incoming freshmen Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, both of whom expect immediate playing time. Urban Meyer recruited elite athletes to fill the defense's biggest problem from 2012. The spring will be crucial for experimenting and learning who deserves more game minutes in 2013. 

42 Comments

Comments

kevinfrenchfry's picture

JA-MAL MARCUS! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP-CLAP-CLAP! Rooting for him to beat out Josh Perry, even though I like Perry a lot. My dream LB corp for this season would be Mitchell, Marcus and Shazier.  Maybe I'm still drooling a little over the '13 class with Mitchell, but I just don't know how he could be a better combination of size, speed, and intelligence.  Jamal Marcus I could easily see us comparing him to Shazier if/when he gets his chance.  The point A to point B comment from Meyer is a perfect explanation of his game, if he puts it together I could see him being a sideline to sideline FREAK. As for Shazier, I don't think we really need to delve into his game much, just watch and drool.
 

German Buckeye's picture

I get all the love and hype for RDS, but when you watch some of the tackles in this highlight video, his form is actually bad, but due to his superior athleticism, he made the play.  I'd love to see him develop further and do all the great highlight film stuff, but with more fundamentally sound technique.  We all know that many times last season, he over ran the play and was out of position.  So let hope he has been working the fundamentals hard, and along with his skills, he'll be shoo-in for All-American. 

741's picture

Hahaha. This is a tough town.

BuckeyeNation's picture

741, that comment is priceless & true! Why your not buried in upvotes right now is bewildering to me. +1 from me B1G dawg (or cat... which ever you are)!

ILbuckeyes's picture

his technique improved as the season wore on. It was evident in the Mich and Wisco games

kevinfrenchfry's picture

you may have a point there but the bottom line is that RDS was more productive in a lot of areas than the the "best lb in the country" manti teo, who in all respects was a good college lb

gobucks96's picture

Man, I love that video! Love having athletic LB's that seek out the contact!

RedStorm45's picture

Are those heights and weights official or just inflated numbers? lol (combine joke...lame)  Not a lot of the big bruising type, like a Boren.  No one over 240 lbs.
 
The way Urban has stated it, Trey or Mike will have to be extremely special to see the field, or start I should say.  The 2 deep is set by the beginning of camp, correct?  Makes it tough to break through.

dan_isaacs's picture

I think the 6'4 for Perry might be low.  He was towering over everyone at the spring game last year.

Dan Isaacs

Statutoryglory's picture

Interesting to note that when Devin Smith was state long jump champion, Josh Perry was the runner up.  

Buckeyejason's picture

Josh Perry is probably the freakiest athletic specimen on the team. Tall, long, lean and quick. He's almost a shoe in for one of the starting spots. 

BUCKEYES BABY!

sir rickithda3rd's picture

i would have liked to see mike and trey enroll early to give them the best chance... im really interested to see what those 2 can do. esp mike after watching the combine, if his sparq numbers are correct, hes more athletic than most defensive backs.

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

kevinfrenchfry's picture

i think you mean all* defensive backs, his score is a national record and the best by far from this class

Ahh Saturday's picture

We have an embarrassment of athletic riches at the LB position. The question is do we have some football players. The difference could be seen when Boren came on as an LB after 3.5 years as a FB and immediately solidified the D. We need somebody at LB who can flat out ball, and I don't care what his 40 time is.

Lawver_5's picture

Agreed. Just look at boren's 40 time at the combine. He only ran a 5.0, but was still able to be a productive defensive player, all while being thrown in halfway through the season.  Any guy could step up and be great, just look at past osu linebackers

SMP's picture

I agree with AHH Saturday.  We have some athletic players, but I want to see them play "nasty".  Attacking downhill, taking on lead blocks and plugging holes, making the open field tackle, showing no mercy on opposing quarterbacks, controlled flow to the ball and provide sound pass coverage protection; basically, excellent fundamentals with controlled anger.  I don't want to see dirty; cheap shots, late hits, etc... 
  

CptBuckeye24's picture

Grant faces the biggest spring out of any player on the roster, IMO. 
But it comes down to the mental aspect of the game.  Who will make the biggest leap mentally?
I really think Perry and Marcus make the leap and will battle through a rotation and will see the field.
But if the situation at Mike is not resolved and the staff is uncomfortable with it, I'd expect someone to slide in the middle or see more nickel packages with a third safety. 

BoFuquel's picture

I believe Williams and Perry will be the starters. Mitchell and Big Johnson III will see  lots of mop up duty. Can't see Luke and Ev playing a freshman full time at any position.Unless there is a lot of experienced players hurt.GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

buckeyechad's picture

If I was Urban I'd force Curtis Grant to room with Shazier and copy his every move and routine every day. Maybe he'll rub off on him some that way. So glad Ryan switched his commitment from Florida or we would be completely screwed this year (and last year) with linebackers.

cal3713's picture

I'm glad he switched because he's simply one of my favorite buckeyes of the past decade.  Really looking forward to seeing what the next two years of experience produces...

bucknutz18's picture

unfortunately it will most likely be just one year...

Buckeyejason's picture

I don't think that would matter..Shazier just has that "IT" factor and that naturally gifted non stop motor. Curtis can't learn that.

BUCKEYES BABY!

txbucknut's picture

I can't express how excited I am for spring practice to get started. So much more even than last year because now the coaching staff is settled in an comfortable with one another, so it should be extremely productive right off the bat. I am really rooting for Curtis Grant to get it together this year. Kid's got so much physical talent, if he can just keep up with the speed of the game, I think he'll be really special. I really like Perry too, and think he could be a total beast. 

741's picture

@Chad: What LB positions are Trey and Big Mike expected to be slotted into?

Chad Peltier's picture

Trey will likely play outside while Mike is likely to challenge Grant and Williams at Mike backer

d5k's picture

Backup Will for Trey then most likely and spot duty barring injury?  Or could he be a situational pass rusher on 3rd down?

Chad Peltier's picture

Right now I'd say backup/spot duty, but that's just after film evaluation and recent history. Almost any of the Will and Sam guys can work as situational pass rushers, so Trey will have to really show something during summer and fall camps. 

sharks's picture

Ryan Shazier is the freaking Terminator.  Imagine him with ten more pounds of muscle and a little more gap discipline. 
Here's to hoping that the linebackers are a position of strength this year... looking great on paper.

The postgame show is brought to you by... Christ, I can't find it. The hell with it...

Knarcisi's picture

I don't care who the other 2 are, but that there should be plenty of fire and competition to give us a result of a very strong 2, and depth. 

d5k's picture

You would hope so, but outside of Perry I am worried.  But I love the irrational optimism in the spring followed by doom and gloom in October/November :).

btalbert25's picture

I think Curtis Grant is going to go off this year.  Marcus, Williams, and Perry are all going to be fine ball players too.  I'm really confident in this LB corps.

Buckeyejason's picture

What makes you think that about Grant? 

I'm really confident in this LB corps.

Besides Shazier, why?

BUCKEYES BABY!

BuckeyeBeth's picture

YAY FOR JAMAL MARCUS!! LOVE LOVE LOVE this kid's heart. Passion and fire and determination is what makes good OSU linebackers GREAT - and this kid has all of that in spades.  Just read his twitter feed for a few months.  Head and heart in the right place - and athletic as all hell.  Winning some Big Ten honors as a freshman didn't hurt my feelings either.
At any rate, I agree with everyone above - it will be a fight in the trenches to see who represents the trenches week in and week out.  I'm excited about spring practice - the spring game and the 2013 season. Go Bucks!

Success - it's what you do with what you've got.   - Woody Hayes
 

old_rasputin's picture

I'm also a big fan.  I hope to see him and RDS decimate some RBs in the future.

"We hate to lose, but when we do, rest assured we'll be back, and someone will pay the price." Coach Hayes

Dread's picture

I wouldn't be surprised if they moved RDS to Mike and let some of the younger guys run free at Will. I see Perry at Sam and one of Marcus Perkins or Mitchell at Will. Could be very interesting.

cal3713's picture

Unfortunately I don't think he plays (as) well when he has to take a lot of traffic head on.  I think that was really shown this year when you compare his performance pre-Boren and post-Boren.  As soon as Boren started getting in there and eating up traffic, Shazier started flying through the remaining players and making critical stops.  Not that he can't play middle (e.g. see his various heroics on the Wisconsin goal-line stand from this year and the PSU one from last year), but he's so fast, I think he's better on the weakside.

smith5568's picture

Really pulling for Curtis Grant. The Mike backer in this defense is extremely important and requires great instincts and football intelligence more than it does pure athletic ability. If Curtis can pull it together this year he could be special. 

GV9's picture

First time I've watched that highlight reel for Jamal Marcus.  It's like watching a lion tear down gazelles on the African Serengeti.  Can't wait to see him in action on Saturdays.  I hope he's ready this year.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

I'm rooting for Boom Perkins to pick up that other LB spot.  I'd like to see Grant move into Nate Williams' role.  Either way our LB corps is going to be very athletic, but probably very young at the same time with the exception of Shazier.

sfgoody's picture

Clearly our biggest LB issues last year was depth and youth. And it seems we've addressed both. SOMEone(s) gonna step up. Put me in the camp that hopes CGrant figures it out. Kid is a physical freak, and if the Xs and Os come around, look out. But with Perry, Williams, Marcus, Perkins, Roberts, Mitchell and Johnson...this unit is gonna get right. I think we see Zboren's parting gift to Shaz and the silver bullets this year in the emergence of a great on field leader in RDS. Kid grew like crazy last year next to Boren and I'm expecting a tremendous sequel.

sfgoods

EazyElmo's picture

I feel that the Mike LB is to the defense what the FB is to the offense. The middle LB is supposed to make it easier for the other LB's to excel. That's why Boren moved over and flourished. Just get your nose in there and good things will happen, that's what Curtis and Camren need to do on instinct not by thinking about it. Just imho

Buckeyejason's picture

I'm rooting for someone that none thinks about or mentions..Luke Roberts!
The kid is smart, hardworking, strong and has a good frame..prototypical OSU linebacker. I hope he starts over the other guys. 

BUCKEYES BABY!