Meyer, Fickell Pleased with Advancements at Linebacker

By Kyle Rowland on April 20, 2014 at 6:00a

Bookended by one of the top defensive lines in the country and an improved pass defense, Ohio State’s linebackers have landed in an enviable position. Stress and pressure have been removed at the same time depth was added.

For the first time during the Urban Meyer era, there are many positives not named Ryan Shazier. There isn’t a 143-tackle machine on the roster. But what Joshua Perry, Darron Lee, Curtis Grant, Chris Worley and Raekwon McMillan proved this spring is there’s strength in numbers.

No one on defense creates a buzz like McMillan – not any of the four starting defensive linemen, not Vonn Bell and not Doran Grant. McMillan is the classic hyped freshman that waltzes onto campus and is instantly a fan favorite. It’s not without merit, though.

During spring practice, McMillan created chatter with his play. Meyer stoked it by giving praise to his newest linebacker. Even Grant – McMillan’s chief competition – let loose a series of compliments. Three years removed from his own floundering freshman campaign, Grant emphasized McMillan isn’t your usual first-year player. 

“He comes in with a lot of things a lot of freshmen don’t come in with,” Grant said.

In his introduction to the public, McMillan recorded five tackles in the spring game, including a goal-line stop of fellow freshman Curtis Samuel.

“He’s officially in the rotation,” Meyer said of McMillan. “He’s going to play. I’d put him the same category as the other guys, Worley and Darron Lee. Those guys all earned playing time. [McMillan] and Curtis [Grant] are going to battle. Curtis had his best spring, so he’s earned that right. He’s not a freshman anymore. He has to go play.”

Therein lies the difference between 2012 and ’13 compared to ’14. Accolades for multiple linebackers just weren’t realistic in the past. This year began in far different fashion, with Meyer identifying Lee from the get-go as a worthy challenger on the first-team defense. And it came after Lee, a high school quarterback, was redshirted his freshman season.

“Darron Lee and Chris Worley are two talented guys that are developed guys,” Meyer said. “We almost sent Darron back to New Albany on a one-way bus ticket. He just didn’t show up with the right demeanor. Then about halfway throughout the season, you saw this really natural athlete and great kid start to develop. And here he is, and he’ll most likely start for Ohio State.”

The competition with Worley will continue in the fall. But the 15-practice battle served as a starting point for a unit on the upswing. Through all the positive developments, there’s still only one spot that’s spoken for. Meyer confirmed that Perry will be the weak side linebacker. The remaining two spots will be decided in fall camp.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who doubles as linebackers coach and fan punching bag, saw an uptick in activity among the linebackers. Experience often plays a significant role during the first month of season before underclassmen become acclimated with all the rigors of the college game. Fickell doesn’t expect a drastically different setup in August and September.

“We’re going to rely on those older guys. They’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. They’ve been through a 24-game win streak and a two-game losing streak. They’ve got to feed off those experiences they’ve had,” Fickell said.

“It’s a confidence issue, whether you’re a younger guy or an older guy. We’ve got to make sure that all of these guys play together. I think that’s the one thing that started to happen at the end when things started to get tough and we weren’t playing well.”

It’s not just a superior level of play Meyer and Fickell have spied on the field. There’s a new energy, a resurgence of drive and vigor. Meyer said speed and triggering were at a faster pace. It all points to an even better run defense.

Ohio State was already a top-10 unit last season when it came to stopping the run. The Buckeyes allowed 109 yards rushing per game. Enhancing the entire defense with an already imaginative offense could wipe away the end of season blues Ohio State experienced in 2013.

And, believe it or not, the linebackers could prove vital.


Comments Show All Comments

BUCKSOMIES's picture

Great stuff Kyle thanks.  It'll only get better in the fall with the arrival of the rest of the freshman class.  Go Bucks!

FitzBuck's picture

Imagine if Mike Mitchell was still with that group.  Still hurts.

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+6 HS
jonping67's picture

I agree, it hurts! Let's red-shirt another 5* recruit and #1 player in Texas in a position of need. Kid must have been much rawer than we all knew.

Berger - Booker - Hubbard.......More help coming this summer!

+3 HS
Poison nuts's picture


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

Buckinut34's picture

Whatever happened to Trey Johnson.  I don't hear him even mentioned anymore.  Thought he played decent minutes last year and was expecting something from him.  Is he hurt or did he just get beat out by Lee and Worley.

+2 HS
jonping67's picture

Trey played behind RS last year and Joshua took Ryan's position at LB.

Trey is now behind Joshua Perry.

+2 HS
Osurrt's picture

Trey may be the next LB to head out of town......seems to be falling down the depth chart.

Crimson's picture

I'm not sure what position Trey is practicing at since the switch in LB assignments, but I would say it's too early to write him off.  I'm not sure that we have a single starter yet if Trey stays at WILL and puts in effort over the summer.

Osurrt's picture

Don't disagree and want to see the kid step up as he was a stud in High School. It's just his name is not being tossed out there by the staff. And the current crop of projected starters are all underclass man (Grant excluded). And with the Freshman scheduled to hit campus in September, and some huge potential LB recruits for clock is ticking.

nm_buck's picture

There's a reason Mitchell was redshirted last year.  The coaches know.  The fans never will.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

+5 HS
Seattle Linga's picture

Can you elaborate with any additional information?

Actorjonnyb's picture

yeah, just like they knew about Bell who came in for the bowl game and played like a senior all the while Fickel saying afterwards, "Who knew". 


You should know, you are the D coordinator. jeez


-2 HS
CGroverL's picture

Well...Bell was behind 2 proven seniors that started as juniors. Plus, he played in every game and never showed much until the Orange Bowl where he had 7 tackles and 1 Int. Before the Orange Bowl, Bell had 3 tackles in 2 games, 2 tackles in one game, one tackle in 4 games...and 6 games where he registered no stats.

Hey...I love having the kid. I think he will be a great Buckeye that will be so good that he'll declare his eligibility to the NFL after his junior year. Fickell...The guy is a lifetime Buckeye minus one year with the Saints and 2 years with Akron. Fickell is 40 now and has helped build top 10 defenses in over 50% of his time as a coach. On top of all of that, last season Fickell had the job title of co-defensive coordinator/LB coach. Well, Everett Withers was also co-defensive coordinator, ASSISTANT HEAD COACH, and he was in charge of the SAFETIES as well. By job title, I'd have to say that Withers is the one to blame, if that is what we're know, putting blame on a coach?


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



+8 HS
m4's picture


Coach Fickell had the Title of defensive coordinator/linebacker coach last year and 2012 as well as 2014 look  the coach's job titles up for those years.

AlwayzABuckeye614's picture

Do you guys think Booker will have to redshirt this year seeing they are pretty deep at LB this year?


Barnsey69's picture

I think he has the talent to make the 2-deep, but most freshman have a learning curve coming in, and he didn't come in early. So unless he starts on special teams or there are injuries to starters at LB, he probably red-shirts. 

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

FrontOfficeJT's picture

This is very positive.. I feel like the defense as a whole will be 10xs better this year.


whobdis's picture

I probably shouldn't read to much into it..but Luke stating we will rely on the older guys and then reels off how many wins they have been a a part of..bothers me. That mentality is why we had guys like Brown playing instead of Bell. Urban stated later some of the those freshman should have been playing and I think we all agree. If an older guy is better than let him play..but not just because he's older.

+4 HS
Colerain 2004 G.O.A.T.'s picture

Yea that really caught my attention too. I think if the position battle is even close it should go to the younger guy who will likely improve more as the season progresses. We hear all offseason about how the youth is going to play because they have too then we have the deer telling us how he is going to lean on the same guys he has been leaning on the last couple of disappointing years.

I speak the truth but I guess that's a foreign language to yall.~~Lil Wayne

Horvath22's picture

Linebackers akimbo!!

+1 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

I would like to see them use all of the linebackers.  Keep them fresh like the defensive line.  The only problem with that is a good problem if our offense keeps them off the field.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

Qujo's picture

"Fan punching bag". 

I have to disagree with that statement. I wouldn't classify the people butt-hurt over Fickell as fans... Maybe front-runners, band-wagoners, knuckle scrapers, negative Nellies, etc. but not fans (in the classic sense of the definition anyway). 

Our arch rivals.... 11 National Championships, 10 before 1949 - eight of eleven shared. Trying to respect them... trying.... Ugh!

+2 HS
buckskin's picture

I'm ready for the return of great middle linebacker play at OSU. We need an on the field leader for this defense, reminiscent of Spiels, Katz, Hawk, Wilhelm, and Laurinitis.

WhySoSerious's picture



Like the ball in the stands, we balls out

buckskin's picture

My thoughts exactly.


ScarletNGrey01's picture

I'll be candid, love OSU football and love the 11W site, but not really someone who gets too uptight or invested in the recruiting (although I do follow it now with great articles by Birm and others).  However ... the recruitment of Raekwon McMillan was something that really caught my attention (along with everyone else) and love the idea that he could be an anchor on the line out there and hopefully step up as a leader in the locker room.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

WhySoSerious's picture

I know a lot of people on here are missing M. Mitchell, but damn i wonder where D. Perkins would have been by now?


Like the ball in the stands, we balls out

headina's picture

I never took Coach Fickell as a leg tat sort of guy...


+1 HS
OSUFlash's picture

I too was a big Mike Mitchell fan but the young man never played a down for the Buckeyes and is now yesterday news. I wish him nothing but the best but our group of Linebackers we have now along with those coming in will bring the excitement back at that position.


The Horseman's picture

I'm surprised that the article didn't reference the fact that the roles, reads and responsibilities have been SIMPLIFIED.  Whereas in the past couple of years we had guys struggling with the mental aspects and as such, playing slow; now, magically, they are playing with confidence and command...  

This is a huge benefit to the younger guys as, in the past (i.e. Mitchell), they couldn't see the field because they didn't have the command of the complex defense down...


Barnsey69's picture

Fick gets a pass from me for last year, not sure there was a lot of coaching harmony on that staff. That being said, he gets no pass this year, and neither do the rest of them if they don't at least win the B1G title.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+1 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

I remember all the hype with Andy Katzenmoyer coming to town.  Raekwon has this level of hype.  I really hope he can learn everything he needs, and doesn't get to slowed down by the terminology and the speed of the game.  He looked very impressive in the Spring Game, I watched him quite a bit when he was on the field.   He seems to have that "football IQ" that you want in a Middle Line-Backer.


Here's to hoping that Raekwon becomes the next great LB at the new Linebacker U!

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

zhamilton05's picture

Has anyone else figured out the nickname for our (likely) starting linebackers? Perry, Grant, Lee--all Civil War commanding officers ( So I nominate them as "The Generals."

I also reserve the right to utterly retract this suggestion if/when McMillan supplants Grant as a starter.

+3 HS
jpbuckeye's picture

I am not able to upvote, but I do appreciate the reference along with the relevant military history. It does have a ring to it.

HattanBuck85's picture

Really excited to get Sam Hubbard in the mix. Kid is going to be a BEAST. 

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes