A Group of Largely Unprovens Look to Restore Status, Depth to Linebacker Corps

By Chris Lauderback on June 7, 2014 at 8:15a
Can Josh Perry lead Ohio State's linebacking corps back to national notoriety?

Penn State likes to playfully lay claim to being Linebacker U but Ohio State's list of past greats to play the position is every bit as impressive, if not more so. 

From Gradishar to Cousineau to Marek to Spielman to Pepper to Tovar to Katzenmoyer to Diggs to Wilhelm to Hawk to Laurinaitis, the Buckeyes featured a top flight tackling machine at linebacker nearly every year from the early 70's to 2008. 

Ross Homan did manage 108 stops in 2009 but simply wasn't on the level of those named above and didn't strike the same type of fear into opposing offenses though he and Brian Rolle formed a legit if not spectacular duo. 

Bad hair, but bad ass

The following season, Rolle and Homan finished 1-2 on the team in tackles but Rolle's meager 76 total stops served as the lowest by the leading linebacker on an Ohio State team since Joe Cooper's 83 in 2001. 

That dubious mark was topped a year later as Andrew Sweat paced the Buckeye linebackers with only 72 stops in 2011. Even less impressive, Sweat finished 2nd on the team in tackles that season (Barnett, 75), marking the first time since that same 2001 team went 7-5 that a Buckeye linebacker failed to lead the team in tackles. 

The 2012 Buckeyes saw Ryan Shazier explode for 115 stops (and a ridiculous 17 TFL) after recording 57 tackles in 2011 but with Etienne Sabino injured and no other scholarship linebackers able to step up to fill the void, Urban Meyer was forced to convert fullback Zach Boren to stop the bleeding. Shazier was in the same league as the past OSU greats but the corps in total was a mediocre, patchwork group at best. 

The 2013 wasn't much better despite Shazier's all-world 143 tackle, 22.5 TFL effort as Curtis Grant didn't have the chops to man the middle and Josh Perry, while coming on late, wasn't the player he looks to be today. 

2013 SHAZIER 143 1 PERRY 64 4 GRANT 52 8
2012 SHAZIER 115 1 BOREN 50 6 SABINO 45 7
2011 SWEAT 72 2 SABINO 62 5 SHAZIER 57 6
2010 ROLLE 76 1 HOMAN 72 2 SWEAT 41 10
2009 HOMAN 108 1 ROLLE 95 2 SPITLER 38 10
2008 LAURINAITIS 130 1 FREEMAN 84 2 HOMAN 67 5
2007 LAURINAITIS 121 1 FREEMAN 109 2 GRANT 51 5
2006 LAURINAITIS 115 1 FREEMAN 71 2 HOMAN 28 10
2005 HAWK 111 1 SCHLEGEL 77 2 CARPENTER 46 5
2004 HAWK 141 1 CARPENTER 93 2 SCHLEGEL 84 3
2003 HAWK 106 1 REYNOLDS 81 3 CARPENTER 37 9
2002 WILHELM 121 1 GRANT 71 4 REYNOLDS 62 6
2001 COOPER 83 2 WILHELM 63 3 GRANT 56 4 

Such collective middling play from an historically dominant positional unit has Buckeye fans (and coaches) running short on patience. The standard was set years ago and through the 2000's, it was a virtual lock that the Buckeyes would feature not just one but at least two legit linebackers studs like Laurinaitis and Hawk had more than capable sidekicks in Freeman, Schlegel and Carpenter. 

Aware of the talent deficiency, Meyer did his best to add a handful of linebackers to his first recruiting class in Columbus adding a trio of four stars in Josh Perry, David Perkins and Camren Williams. Perkins was with the program barely over a year before transferring to Ilinois State following an arrest. Williams registered 15 tackles in 13 games last season but missed at least that many tackles as he looked not ready for primetime in spot duty. Perry returns as the leading tackler among the 2014 linebackers and all signs point to him having a big season but doing so would represent a significant leap from his 2013 exploits. 

Is Kwon Da Truth?

Meyer's 2013 recruiting haul again attempted to address the talent gap as he brought in five-star Mike Mitchell, four-stars Chris Worley and Trey Johnson, and Darron Lee who was initially pegged as more of a safety/star hybrid but could be on the verge of starting at the newly termed walkout linebacker spot which would replace the star position used heavily in the recent past. 

Lee's emergence is significant considering Mitchell left the program after his father fell ill and/or because he was redshirted last season. Worley should also remain in the mix at the walkout based on stellar play during spring  drills which leaves 2011 five-star Curtis Grant to man the middle, something he did in disappointing to marginally adequate fashion a year ago depending on your curve. 

Still looking for depth and future stars, Meyer brought in four more linebackers as part of the 2014 class headlined by Raekwon McMillan. The five-star out of Georgia could push Grant for playing time while four-stars Kyle Berger, Dante Booker and Sam Hubbard will have to wait their turn for a crack at restoring greatness to the starting linebacking unit in Columbus. 

It's hard to envision the starting linebackers in 2014 going down in history as one of the best units since the turn of the century but a return to glory may not be too far off in the future. 


Comments Show All Comments

Abe Froman's picture

I thought Berger looked impressive in a few plays during the spring game.  Sure, it is obviously not an exact measure of talent, but he was in the right place at the right time and drove thigh the ball-carrier.  I will take that any day.  

Basking in the wake of mediocrity.....

Buckeye Rocket Sci's picture

I completely agree. The idea of being "in the right place at the right time" is just as important to any linebacker as pure skills are. The amount of pure instincts and football IQ required to make split-second decisions to get to the ball that is usually no more than 3-5 yards in front of you with at least 10 other guys swarming around you is vastly underrated. All people want are big hulking linebackers with quick feet, but none of that matters if you can't get to the ball. Of course, once you get there, it certainly helps to have those physical traits.

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence" - Calvin Coolidge

+2 HS
Crimson's picture

Kyle Berger did not enroll early and did not play in the spring game.  Joe Burger played, but I doubt he'll see much playing time during the season.

+15 HS
buckguyfan1's picture

If you look at the line cooks, you'll find a budding master chef in the making.  He will be the next great LB @ TOSU.  Welcome to Hell's Kitchen.  

+3 HS
BoFuquel's picture

I ain't worried about no linebackers, just outscore'em like we did last two years. That's the name of the game now for TOSU. GO BUCKS!

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

-10 HS
Crimson's picture

Dass Englisch macht meine Augen schmerzen.

+7 HS
Byaaaahhh's picture

I'm sorry, are you saying that's a good thing?

+1 HS
seafus26's picture

I like that Meyer seems to be going away from the stuff hipped kids that have plagued our program and conference. Guys like Spitler, Sweat and Schlegle might have had exceptable or good straight ahead forty times, but didnt translate to quick twitch and change of direction with explosiveness. I like the kids Meyer is building with. They can be missiles on special teams, too. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

-3 HS
swainpm's picture

Schlegel was plenty good for the 3rd best LB on that team(especially given that he was a late transfer from Air Force). That LB core was probably the best I have ever seen in my 35 years. The defense was more fun to watch than the offense back then. And the offense wasn't missing much itself. Still amazes me that team didn't bring home the big one.

+9 HS
coke's picture

Schlegel was terrible, most of his defects were covered up because he played next to Hawk and Carpenter.  He was slow, stiff hipped, and a poor tackler.  I never remember him driving driving a ball carrier backwards, I only remember him getting plowed over by them.  There is reason why he rarely saw the field  with the Jets and Bengals.    Schlegel played particularly poor in OSU's losses against Texas and Penn State.  In my opinion, if Tressel played Laurenitas as a Freshman instead of Schlegel, we probably would have beaten Texas and Penn State

Also, he was not a late transfer, he left the Air Force after his sophmore season.

-3 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Schlegel getting it done

He left Air Force after a stellar sophomore season in which he was named a CAPTAIN. As a SOPHOMORE. At a school with a team full of leaders. Schlegel was a lot of things, terrible was not one of them. I saw plenty of tackles where he drove a ball carrier back, or was in exactly the right place and finished with a perfect form tackle.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

+4 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

Sorry ladies and gentlemen, but I remember hearing a story about Anthony.  He goes wild boar hunting with a KNIFE - not a gun.  I am not putting down any man that does this.   He was a very good LB in his day for us - enough said...

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

+1 HS
seafus26's picture

Agree Schegel was key cog on the D. Was simply talking about the type of athlete we now seem to recruit at LB under Meyer. I met this guy once during the national strength coaches meetings in Baton Rouge a few years back and he'd been responsible for prepping Schlegel for NFL. Said he darn near had to completely re-invent him (if possible), has entire previous training was only strength and mass, no flexibility, ply metrics and agility trained before. Also, stated how messed up Schlegels back was and probably had been playing through that pain for years. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

+1 HS
nm_buck's picture

Scheme is everything.  It can wipe out a player's tangibles, or it can enhance them.  Ash has simplified things from what I have seen, and this year's LB corps will show vastly improved play because of it.  They have outstanding talent and a defensive coordinator who knows how to utilize that talent.  This group, specifically Lee, Perry, Grant and especially Kwon... will set the tone for our return to defensive dominance. Bank it.

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

+3 HS
southbuc's picture

"And/or". Yup. 

Shangheyed's picture

I was hoping to hear more about Trey Johnson this Spring was as excited about him as Mitchell last year, but more reports on Lee and Worley... is he injured any updates on his development or did I miss an article about his status? 

+2 HS
Crimson's picture

Some comments came out about his lack of effort in the offseason.  I would guess he's a backup to Perry at the moment.

+2 HS
buckeyedexter's picture

It really stands out from the above chart, the great ones don't need a couple years to figure things out, they're great almost from the very beginning.

+3 HS
bafiesta's picture

I'd actually say it shows even the great ones aren't great as true freshmen.  Shazier, Laurinaitis, Hawk, Carpenter, none were starters as true freshmen, but all had great sophomore years.  

Winner Eleven Warriors 2014 Yahoo Sports College Bowl Pick'em

+1 HS
UrbanRenewal's picture

I think our linebacker corps will get the job done this year. They more than likely won't be up to the standard that had been set 2000-2010ish but I think they'll actually perform better as a unit even with losing Shazier. Darron Lee is freaky athletic and is hungry. Perry will step it up. And Curtis Grant... Well I'm thinking a developing McMillan is > an experienced Grant. This is going to be a SCARY group in a 2 years. Maybe just 1 more until they're near where they should be. 

You don't get a virgin to the volcano by telling her you're gonna push her in.

dubjayfootball90's picture

Meyer will continue to bring in amazing linebackers and kids he feels can play the position. An reunion with greatness is on the horizon. I can feel it.

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

+4 HS
ArizonaBuckeye's picture

Agreed. This year they turn it around and the defense as a whole will be much improved. Chris Ash and Larry Johnson will be worth their weight in gold when it's all said and done.

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

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Fan of the youngsters coming up. I think this unit has some good looking days ahead.

+4 HS
saltybuck61's picture

Curtis Grant did alright last year, considering he was injured for several games and didn't play in the nickel package. He is a good run stopper and solid rushing the QB. However, the drop off after him was astounding. The defense seemed like a completely different unit when his backup was in, that being Camren Williams. Williams looked especially lost against Illinois. 

Grant will most likely start at the beginning of next year, but I could definitely see McMillan challenging him for it. After watching the spring game, McMillan looks like the real deal. Honestly, I think those two are more than capable of handling the position.

The spring game also showed improved play from everyone on the defense, particularly the defensive backs. I think the improvement of the defensive line and the defensive backs will also help take some pressure off of the linebackers. It could be a return to the Silver Bullets this year if the spring game is any indication.

+5 HS
Citrus's picture

Well put. Grant was playing through pain and injury and it was obvious. He was very good against the run. He is better than adequate when healthy.

+3 HS
1967Buck's picture

Thanks Chris, a very nice write up. Gets me thinking of what could be. Peace.

RedsBuckeyeBoy's picture

I like the LBs on the depth chart, but boy would I love to have RDS back this year to lead the way. 

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Ohio State is Linebacker U!  The rest are just pretenders!

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Grant just looks the part-imagine if he can produce.  Hopefully, simplicity with this years D will have a positive effect on him.  Not say I don't want to see 'Kwon, but Grant is a monster.  To be that highly ranked coming out of high school, the skills and physical attributes are there, it's just a matter of putting it together on the field.  Our D line is stacked too, but it would be neat to throw off an offense by rolling out a 3-4 alignment while Spence is on suspension-Washington and Bosa on the ends, with Bennett in the middle, then Lee and Perry on the outside, with Grant and 'Kwon in the middle-yikes.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

Crimson's picture

I don't know.  I'm pretty excited to see Tyquan Lewis get some serious snaps.  Jalyn Holmes is coming in as well.

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Completely agree, I was just throwing out a package with 'Kwon, and hopefully a much improved Grant on the field at the same time, laying the lumber.


Actually, against Navy-a 4-4 alignment wouldn't be a bad option either.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+1 HS
German Buckeye's picture

Seems we recruit a "Grant" to play LB every 4-5 years from that chart.  Any Grants being looked at now?


Bamabucknut's picture

There may have been a dearth of linebacker talent but there has also been a lack of coaches willing to let younger players play.The number of red shirts last year was shocking. Luckily Urban has flat out said, that won't be allowed to happen again.