Ohio State Spring Football Notebook: Grant, Linebackers Rounding Into Form

By Kyle Rowland on March 7, 2013 at 8:55p
34 Comments

No other position on the field will be under a more high-powered microscope this spring than linebacker. The defensive line might be replacing four starters, but the guys stepping in are known commodity. That is far from the case at linebacker. 

It's now or never for Curtis Grant.

Curtis Grant came to Ohio State as the No. 2 overall recruit in the country two years ago. Instead of thrusting himself into the spotlight, he’s taken a backseat to fellow 2011 recruit Ryan Shazier.

Grant’s freshman season was a wash after spending the year on special teams. He did come up with a touchdown off a blocked punt against Wisconsin. But that was where the bright spots dimmed. He entered last spring much like this year’s – a frontrunner for a starting linebacker spot. But he quickly faded in 2012, still not used to the speed of the college game. 

A fullback and someone who wasn’t even on the team during fall camp supplanted Grant. That doesn’t mean the coaching staff has given up on the once-promising talent, or that they think his best days are behind him.

Far from it, actually.

“Do we still have hope he can become a good linebacker? Absolutely, yes,” said head coach Urban Meyer.

If it’s going to happen, this spring is his time. With Ohio State’s recent recruiting hauls, Grant doesn’t want to waste any more opportunities. And Meyer has made it clear springtime is when position battles will be won or lost, not during preparation for games in the fall.

“Your junior year, if you don’t do anything, there’s no guarantee there’s another year to do it,” Grant said. “(The spring) is very big for me.”

With a 6-foot-3, 241-pound frame, Grant has the body of linebacker. Arms mimicking boa constrictors add to his aura, but producing on the field isn’t about body physique and big arms. It takes a series of intangibles to be an on-field talent, and so far Grant hasn’t displayed many of those.

After the Michigan game, he went home to Richmond, Va., and evaluated where he was in his football life.

“You man up or get out,” Grant said. “I manned up.”

During the first two practices, Grant has exhibited progress on all fronts. The next 13 will be magnified even more. Will the light bulb really go off? If it does Grant has the potential to be a game-changer at his position and for Ohio State’s national championship hopes.

“If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we’ll have a good team,” Meyer said. “If not, we won’t. It’s pretty simple.”

Football can be overanalyzed to a great extent, but Meyer’s statement is the truth in its simplest form. One peek at national champions of seasons past reveals that.

Grant isn’t the only man in the race, though. Camren Williams is also pushing for a breakthrough. He made three tackles as a true freshman in 2012, mostly playing special teams.

The area Williams improved on most during the offseason was adding muscle. Give Mickey Marotti the assist on that development. Williams is up 10 pounds to 232. When Jack Mewhort was chasing him down in practice last season, Williams said he felt small.

“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot faster,” he said. “My leg strength is a lot stronger. I feel like a linebacker.”

Now Williams and Grant just need to play like linebackers.

Ryan Shazier: team leader. 

The Evolution of a Leader

When it comes to hard-hitting, high-flying linebackers, Shazier’s name is near the top of the list. At a program like Ohio State, which has a long history of turning linebackers into the Incredible Hulk with Usain Bolt-like speed, the alertness of an alligator and run-down ability of a cheetah, Shazier has distinguished himself as one of the greats.

As the only returning starter on the front seven, he’s turned into a grandfather of sorts, steering his young cohorts in the right direction with experience and a wise instinct. 

“He sees everything,” sophomore linebacker Josh Perry said. “He’s got a great football mind, so he’s letting us know, you can do this, you can do that. He’s invaluable.”

Even with so much instability at linebacker last season, Shazier still managed to lead the Buckeyes with 115 tackles. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who works with the linebacker corps, said Zach Boren’s presence and reliability contributed to Shazier’s impressive statistics. 

That’s why Grant and the likes of Williams, Perry, David Perkins and Jamal Marcus are being focused on so much. And don’t forget Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson will stroll into Columbus this summer.

“We’re still looking,” Meyer said. “You have Camren Williams, you have Luke Roberts, and then you have a couple of freshmen popping in here.”

But the rock of the linebacker room is Shazier. He’s the best and the brightest, lending a helping hand to the less experienced of the group.

Said Shazier: “I have a strong belief in the guys coming in.”

Notes

  • Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said the defensive staff hasn't even had time to think about the starters they've lost. That number is seven, but Fickell said there’s no resting at Ohio State, meaning there’s not time to sit around and ponder the missing parts.
  • There have only been two practices, but Fickell said the energy has been great, especially with the young guys on defense, which includes the entire front seven. On-field communication is huge, and Fickell said that’s something they’re still working on.
  • One of the biggest parts of the spring will be seeing leaders develop. Fickell said they’re already emerging. He named Christian Bryant, Bradley Roby, CJ Barnett and Pittsburgh Brown. Fickell said all four are vocal.
  • The more guys that step up and lead, the better off Ohio State is, according to Fickell.
  • Fickell said the great linebacker search will be done by committee. Each guy will have his chance to earn a starting spot or be part of the rotation.
  • Ryan Shazier won't practice for a couple weeks due to a sports hernia.
  • Shazier said the defensive line will have more speed this season and get to the QB quicker. He said they're just as strong too.
  • Shazier said watching practice, it doesn't look like the defense lost seven players. He noted that everyone has experience, whether they’ve started or not.
  • Camren Williams said his biggest goal during the spring is learning the playbook. The defense is putting in new plays each day. Being at MIKE, he is the quarterback of the defense, and he doesn’t take it lightly. Williams said he takes pride in his football IQ.
  • Curtis Grant said the biggest problem in his time at Ohio State has been being too complacent. Coming in as a big-time recruit, he thought he could waltz in and start.
  • Grant was very complimentary of John Simon, Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino. That trio taught him a lot about leadership, the latter two about linebacker.
  • Josh Perry said the defense and offense trash talk during practice. He said going up against Braxton Miller and the high-powered offense improves the defense.
  • “They make (the defense) better,” Perry said.
  • Michael Bennett, Joel Hale, Ryan Shazier, as well as the secondary, are the leaders on defense, according to Perry.
  • Perry said he's still grasping the defense, but added that playing last season was invaluable.
34 Comments

Comments

wolfman's picture

I am pulling for the kid (Grant).  I really hope he does well this year!

dubjayfootball90's picture

Yea man. I mentioned this a little bit ago, but grant seems like a world beater waiting to break out

jkrk's picture

I remember how glad I was when things hit the fan with Tress that you never heard a peep out of Grant as though he was thinking about anywhere else. I thought that as the #2 recruit in the country that was pretty cool, so I've been pulling pretty hard for him since then. I hope he doesn't end up in an Alex's Busts article in a couple of years.

O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

Bring the juice Curtis. Every play, every practice.

buckeye4life7's picture

Would love to see Curtis Grant turn into a force at middle linebacker this year!

J_Poe's picture

Urban said last year if Grant didn't work out at MLB we would be in trouble. And seeing that we had to move our fullback to that spot, boy that was true.

Man of Scarlet and Gray's picture

Yes, and if Grant does work out at MLB the rest of the Big Ten is in trouble.

 "I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault."
--Jack Tatum

buckeyedude's picture

The writing is on the wall Curtis. To quote Elvis, "It's now or never." You can do it.

 
 

Jhesse17's picture

I really hope Grant gets it together mentally. He seems like a great kid and I'd love to see him succeed.

bhardy22132's picture

Really hope Bryant takes practice as a good time to learn to wrap up! Leave the arm tackles at the door this year please!!!!

jkrk's picture

To Kyle and anybody else doing interviews this year: is it possible to keep a running total of how many times Fickell talks about laying his head on the pillow this season?

Baroclinicity's picture

Really pulling for Grant. The guy looks like a beast...hopefully he believes in himself and gets some confidence and forward momentum.

BrewstersMillions's picture

As well you should. The biggest question facing the Bucks next year is the LB-not-named-Shazier position. If Grant lives up to the hype and OSU has two legit LB's while the third (whoever he ends up being) cuts his teeth, OSU will be a terror next year.
Not to say the season hinges on Grant but if he's good, OSU will be good right away.

4-6 seconds from point A to point B and when you get to point B, be pissed off

Squirrel Master's picture

Last year, Curtis only had 1 guy he really had to battle before Boren came over from FB, Klein. I could see how easy it was for him to be complacent because he really didn't have competition from the beginning and he was basically penciled in as the start by default. 
Not this year. He knows he has to work for it. It might be the push he needs, hopefully!
Good write up! 

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

AGL's picture

CG is a beast

DMcDougal24's picture

Staff or edumacated fans, who is expected to replace Sabino at Sam LB? I thought it was going to be Josh Perry (and maybe it will be), but I also see that he's taking reps at Mike. The way I saw it heading into spring:
Sam: Perry, Roberts?
Mike: Grant, Williams
Will: Shazier, Perkins

Squirrel Master's picture

He could still be the SAM but right now it seems like a battle for the MIKE and most likely the SAM will be the consolation prize because of the possible heavy use of the STAR. Perry is really good and has the opportunity to do great things but I am sure he will do what he can to get as much PT as he can and that means trying to be the MIKE. 
So basically, with Shazier at the Will and the SAM being split with the STAR, Mike is where the linebackers want to try to be. Either that or get big and try to play LEO or VIPER on the line much like Marcus is doing. 
All I know is, great problems to have as opposed to last year where it was can anyone filled SAM or MIKE. Now its more about who will.

I saw a UFO once.......it told me to have a goodyear!

buckeye4life050233's picture

I mean if the kid is a physical beast like his body looks and he has the speed why not let shazier make all the defensive calls and take that responsibility away from the mlb as they are calling that the qb of the defense....just have shazier do it and design the defense around shazier

Hovenaut's picture

Awesome write up. Plenty of focus on the front seven, as it should be. And on Grant, as it also should be.

I'm pulling for him, he's saying the right things, and by the looks of that pic he's ready to lay it all out there. Like an echo of last years' team, pissed off and standing on the (postseason) sidelines, I'd love to see LG just go off this year.

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

kevinfrenchfry's picture

I hope no one takes this the wrong way, as this would mean 11W would lose Kyle, but he should have Austin Wards job. Him or Ross...actually any staff member

BeijingBucks's picture

who is Austin Ward?  I only know the 11W guys... :P

DMcDougal24's picture

Austin Ward is ESPN's Buckeye beat writer. 

ArizonaBuckeye's picture

Time to do work Mr. Grant! Go Bucks!

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you." -Woody Hayes-

FROMTHE18's picture

Have a good feeling about Grant...with the class of 2012 guys we have plus Johnson and Mitchell on the way, that type of pressure will help Grant a lot in terms of focus and drive...like our LB group this year, expecting big things.

zbd's picture

How any player can be complacent is hard for me to understand. I can't see Ray Lewis or Peyton Manning or LeBron James being complacent.

Buckeyejason's picture

^This.
How does the guy become complacent when he hasn't accomplished anything yet in his college career? I really don't think he has the mental toughness to succeed at OSU.

BUCKEYES BABY!

439LawDog's picture

Wishing Grant the best and something to keep in mind...Sabino was a top recruit and it took him 3+ years before he was able to grasp the game at the level that he finished at.

Buckeyejason's picture

^  3 plus years is fine and all..but when you're Ohio State and you bring in top LB recruits every year..3 years is too long to "get it". All the great ones seem to "get it" in year 1 or 2.

BUCKEYES BABY!

BrewstersMillions's picture

I agree, but he is in the unique position to succeed after not doing much for 2 full seasons because OSU is 'down' at LB in the sense that everyone is so green. In a normal Ohio State LB type season, Grant would be an after thought but he still has a chance to leave a positive mark on the program. He's to hoping he does.

4-6 seconds from point A to point B and when you get to point B, be pissed off

BrooklynBuckeye's picture

Whenever I see someone who so clearly passes the "look" test, but hasn't produced on the field, I try to remember Vernon Gholston. Big Vern was always the star of the photos of guys who were jacked, and then he redshirted his Freshman year, then we thought, okay, look at this guy, he'll clearly be ready by year two, and then he rode the bench during his Redshirt Freshman year. Then there was another spring of photos of Vern looking like he should dominate, but we were all cautious because we hadn't seen anything on the field yet... Then, bam! He totally exploded during his third and fourth years. Hopefully we'll see the same out of Curtis, starting with right now, his third year.

Buckeyejason's picture

Two totally different situations. Vernon wasn't a 5 star recruit like Curtis..he also played on some of the most talented Tressell teams in the mid 2000's. Curtis came into a situation with a weak LB group and failed to take advantage.
Vernon only redshirted because of injury. Also as you mentioned Vernon departed early for the draft..which means he was very good.

BUCKEYES BABY!