Buckeyes Loading Up on Linebackers

By Kyle Rowland on July 11, 2014 at 8:30a

Ohio State’s linebackers have frustrated Urban Meyer more than Michigan in his first two seasons. After all, Meyer sports a perfect 2-0 record against the maize and blue. But those pesky linebackers have given him and Luke Fickell worrisome moments.

Correcting the problem started in recruiting, an area where Meyer believes the issue also began. The Buckeyes have missed out, been incorrect in their evaluations and been unsuccessful in developing players.

Since James Laurinaitis’s three-time All-American career, Ryan Shazier is the only difference-making linebacker Ohio State’s had. It’s a situation that trumps history. Stretching back decades, the Silver Bullets have been built on consistently strong linebacker play.

Meyer hopes – and believes – the Buckeyes are going forward and re-winding to the past. In 2014, Ohio State signed three linebackers – Raekwon McMillan, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker (Sam Hubbard is reportedly moving to tight end). On National Signing Day, the brutally honest Ohio State head coach didn’t cloak his feelings behind coachspeek.

“Without question the position that’s not up to standard is linebacker at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “A lot of mistakes have been made. There are players that have not been developed. I could go on and on and on. We need these [three] guys to come in and play.”

And Ohio State isn’t stopping there. The Buckeyes already hold verbal commitments from Nick Connor and the nation’s top outside linebacker, Justin Hilliard. Next on the list is Cleveland Benedictine’s Jerome Baker, who announces at 10 a.m. between Ohio State, Florida and Tennessee.

Hilliard caught front-row glimpses of the Buckeyes’ linebacker decline. He was neighbors with Jordan Hicks when he spurned Ohio State for Texas. That started a four-year trend where the top-rated linebacker in the state didn’t play for the Buckeyes. Next came Trey Depriest and Alabama. Curtis Grant (Virginia) came to Columbus as the nation’s top recruit by some services, but entering his senior season, Grant remains an enigma.

Dating to February, Ohio State’s ended the recruiting struggles at linebacker.

“I’m putting pressure on them, on Coach Fickell and on myself to get them ready to play next year,” Meyer said on signing day about the recent crop of linebackers. “They have to play for us. There’s no redshirt plans for those players at all.”

St. Xavier head coach Steve Spect said following Hilliard’s announcement that Meyer usually gets what he wants. It’s a true statement when it comes to recruiting. Zeroing in on the nation’s best linebackers was a priority and a mission that’s been executed with gusto. Any coach will tell you there’s no such thing as too many linebackers.

That’s why it might seem to some that the Buckeyes have them on backorder. During the spring, Grant, Joshua Perry and Darron Lee emerged from the ashes to instill a dose of confidence in the coaching staff. It came on the heels of losing former five-star recruit Mike Mitchell to a transfer.

Mitchell’s case acts as a bellowing warning alarm that it isn’t as easy as putting on a uniform. Future seasons at Ohio State – starting with 2014 – will include intense competition at the linebacker position. Four- and five-star recruits will find themselves watching from the sidelines.

McMillan and Hilliard admitted they’ll embrace it and the added competition. They’re aware of who came before them and who could come after.

“I know it’s going to be hard. I believe in competition,” Hilliard said. “Whoever is the best player out there is going to play.”

It’s that attitude and determination that leads onlookers to believe the linebackers will finally be Ohio State-ish. Something Meyer said didn’t exist last season. Penn State might call themselves Linebacker U., but Ohio State – the home of Randy Gradishar, Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer, A.J. Hawk, Steve Tovar, Tom Cousineau, Laurinaitis and others – deserves special mention.

It’s why Meyer’s been so stern with – well, it sounds like himself, Fickell and the players. But he’s been vague in pointing fingers. Facts are facts, though, and aside from Shazier’s yeoman’s effort, there’s been little production from the position.

So Ohio State continues to fill its cupboard, to the point where it could overflow. The Buckeyes will have 10 scholarship linebackers this season – a number that will grow in 2015.

“I heard it’s a great day to be a Buckeye,” Meyer told a reporter when Hilliard and Jashon Cornell committed within minutes of each other.

Meyer’s greatest day might be when he no longer worries about the linebacker position. 


Comments Show All Comments

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Interesting timing.....

I hope you know something I don't.

Read my entire screen name....

+5 HS
Buckabroad's picture

"I know it's going to be hard. I believe in competition." Those are the words of a fighter and a champion.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

+1 HS
apack614's picture

It's honestly strange to have grown up always watching the Buckeyes defense dominate year in and year out and to come into the past season and see teams like Buffalo, Cal, Iowa, Northwestern, and Illinois score 20+ points in what seemed like and easy fashion... Thank god for our newly found explosive offense.

I can't wait to poop in the PL bathroom.

BUCKSOMIES's picture

PSU as linebacker university?  Wahahahahaha!

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

To me, for whatever reason, a Defense just seems so much more dominant and imposing when the LB position is stocked with playmakers.  There aren't too many great defenses, not just at OSU, but anywhere, pro or college, that you can't name at least 1 linebacker from that team.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+1 HS
BroJim's picture

Thanks for publishing another article, Kyle.

As a unit I believe the linebacker play will be better this year. I am looking forward to the competition in camp.

Now or never, Grant. . .

I season my simple food with hunger

lwitters's picture

Heard from a recruiting coordinator who had talked with the staff that Grant et al were largely held back by a scheme that was too complicated for them.  This year they have simplified everything to just let the kids play.  So we may not have any Narduzzi-like schematic advantages, but at least our LBs should be flying around this year.  And with the athletes we have, letting them fly around on a few basic calls could go a long way.

BroJim's picture

I have read that too, i'm hopeful. 

I season my simple food with hunger

DaveStephens's picture

Who starts at MLB this year?  Raekwon McMillan is talked about like he's the incumbent.  I have hard time believing Curtis Grant isn't motivated to finally "pan out."  Thoughts?

The Dude abides.

dan_isaacs's picture

Grant starts.  Kwon plays.  Who starts week 5, I dunno.

Dan Isaacs

+2 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

So what's the Depth Chart looking like as of right now?

Walkout - Darron Lee / ?? <-- Who will this be?

MLB - Curtis Grant / Raekwon McMillan

SLB - Josh Perry / Trey Johnson?

Also, if one of the staff could clear this up: what are the walkout's alignment rules? Is it Field side or Weak side? I understand his role, but how far will Darron go out? The type of player he reminded me of was a young Tyler Moeller, really great pursuit and versatile enough to play multiple spots. 

I got a gray kitty, white kitty, tabby too, and a little orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes. Got mad MC skills, that leave ya struck, and I roll with my kitties and I'm hard as f*ck.

TheBadOwl's picture

Walkout: Lee / Worley

MLB: Grant / McMillan / Williams

SLB: Perry / Booker / Berger / Johnson

Just a guess.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

mtrotb's picture

Johnson lettered as a true frosh last year.   No way is he 4th string.


TossTrap's picture

Jerome Baker must have believed there was too much competition for him at linebacker. Hard to believe Urban lost out on an Ohio guy that changed his mind late.

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

swainpm's picture

Or maybe he just preferred Gainesville and the environment at UF over tOSU. Either way best of luck to the young man, hopefully he has a great career and represents Ohio well. Anybody think the staff goes harder after the Jefferson kid from Texas now, or do we just take 2 LBs? Jefferson's already named OSU as one of his officials and I can't see anyone not wanting a 5 star LB with a 4.39 forty time. Thoughts? BIRM?

+1 HS
OneOfOver475000's picture

Easy mistake to make, but it is Conner . . . Not Connor.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Great article Kyle but can you give some clarification? You hint to Mitchell transferring out because of competition/playing time but he claims he moved because of his father. What's the real truth?

Nutinpa's picture

Not Kyle...obvioiusly....but I doubt we ever know.  I would suggest....that I think  is naive to believe that Mitchell left strictly due to his dad's health. 

exnwohiobuckfan's picture

Especially since Mickey still seems very sure that he is coming.

Buckeye Born's picture

"Correcting the problem started in recruiting, an area where Meyer believes the issue also began. The Buckeyes have missed out, been incorrect in their evaluations and been unsuccessful in developing players." If Luke Fickell cannot coach-up the LBs this year, he needs to be replaced. Get a great LB coach on staff that will make it happen. It seems tOSU is locked in to some sort of "affirative action program" with Fickell regardless of his results on the field.  There is a reason no other teams are hot after Fickell's services... he lacks coaching ability.  Based on the play of Buckeye LBs over the last two seasons (excepting Ryan Shazier), Fickell could be the most overpaid position coach of any major college program. [137]


-2 HS