CHICAGO – For the better part of the last two seasons, Urban Meyer has lamented the production and depth of his linebackers.
“Without question, the position that’s not up to standard is linebacker at Ohio State,” Meyer said last February while on his Columbus radio show.
“A lot of mistakes have been made. There are players that have not been developed. I could go on and on and on.”
Chris Spielman insists otherwise.
“I don’t agree with that,” Spielman, a former Buckeye star and Pro Bowler, told Eleven Warriors Monday at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago.
“I thought the tackling was improved from Urban’s first year to last year, much better. Especially Ryan Shazier. I think the tackling as a whole improved on defense because that first year, it was awful. I think they would all tell you that.”
The Buckeyes were good at stopping the run, but finished 112th in pass defense last season. And after surrendering more than 1,000 yards in back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson last season, Meyer vowed to be more involved with the defense and promised an “overhaul” of a system that ultimately doomed his squad’s Big Ten and national title hopes.
“I'm used to hearing about Laurinaitis’ and A.J. Hawks and those guys and we weren't at that level,” Meyer said Monday while addressing the media.
Spielman, though, pointed to former All-American, first-round NFL Draft pick and Pittsburgh Steeler Ryan Shazier as an encouraging sign for maligned unit.
“(He) made a million plays. Joshua Perry will be pretty good. The young kid, the Raekwon McMillan, he’s supposed to step in and play. If Curtis Grant is healthy and can play, they’re solid there,” he said.
Plus, they’ll be playing behind what’s supposed to be one of the best defensive lines in the country with the likes of Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington.
“They have a good defensive line back. Linebackers are only as good as guys in front of them. I wasn’t very good if I didn’t have good guys in front of me,” Spielman said.
“If guys were playing well, I was playing well. If they were playing bad, I was playing bad. They’ll be pretty solid up front which should help the linebackers.”
Meyer remains optimistic. too.
“It's the best the group's been right now. And that's just as far as chemistry, as far as trust, as far as operating as a unit. So I'm anxious to see them play,” he said.
“We took three freshmen there. Dante Booker, Raekwon McMillan and Kyle Berger ... Josh Perry's done a great job at leadership and so has Curtis Grant.
“So it's about time we played linebacker ball, linebacker play the way Ohio State is used to. I think you're going to see it this year.”