Learning to Walk Again: Linebackers Adjusting to Life Without the 'Crutch' of Ryan Shazier

By Patrick Maks on August 8, 2014 at 1:05p
Ryan Shazier averaged 15 tackles per game over his last four outings for Ohio State.

For a defense and, in particular, a group of linebackers in search of redemption, filling the gaping hole left by former linebacker Ryan Shazier is among its biggest priorities.

Shazier, who was drafted 15th overall in the NFL Draft in May, led Ohio State with 143 tackles (for perspective, that was at least 59 stops more than anyone else) last season.

So it’s interesting, then, when the Buckeyes say they might be better off without one of the best players of the last decade. 

“Sometimes, you get addition by subtraction,” co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said Wednesday. That’s sort of a bizarre thing to say, but hear him out.

“We lose a great one and we lose a guy that I don’t know if you can replace the production he had. I tell you, in turn, we’ve got a group that has really come together,” Fickell said.

“And I say it’s addition by subtraction, we lost one big and a lot of guys – there’s five, six, seven guys – that the light really came on and they saw some ability for themselves to step up and do some things. It’s gonna be much more of a committee type of thing than some guy that maybe, at the end of the season, breaks our production record like Ryan Shazier did in the last two years.”

Because on one hand, he tracked down and tackled running backs like a heat-seeking missile. On the other, Shazier was so good, in fact, that he might’ve limited the other linebackers around him. It’s no fault of his own, of course, but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less intriguing.

“I think we’ve just got a completely different group … we’re taking a lot more ownership,” junior linebacker Joshua Perry said Thursday. “Ryan’s gone and he did a great job for us last year, but we’re not gonna have that crutch to lean on so we’ve gotta go out there and perform as a group and the more that we can learn and go out there together and do the same thing, I think it’s going to be better for us.”

But rewind for a second. What do you mean Shazier was a crutch?

“I knew kind of that if we weren’t making plays that Ryan was going to be coming there and make a play. Ryan was going to be able to do a lot of things that other guys couldn’t do,” Perry said.

“We had a lot of deficiencies in the group, just because we saw Ryan go out there and we knew that he was gonna play really hard. And we kind of weren’t confident in what we could do, we weren’t playing to the best of our abilities.

“Now that he’s gone, guys are getting more reps, guys are taking more of what they’re doing more seriously. Now we’re all more confident. We’re building depth. That’s really important.”

Conventional wisdom, though, suggests the Buckeyes will struggle without Shazier, who’s arguably the best linebacker to play at the school since James Laurinaitis did. Can you really lose a player of that caliber and be better?

“Yeah you can. Because now you have a mentality,” Perry said. “We’ve heard so much about how the linebackers weren’t playing well last year, how Ryan was really the only good guy out there and we just had a whole bunch of other guys running around … we know that we’ve gotta go out there and play our best ball.”

After all, Ohio State’s new-look defense is depending on them to.

“There’s a lot of exciting things to be said about those guys and we got a ways to go,” Fickell said. “I promise you, that group’s going to be as strong as we’ve had in a while.”


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tussey's picture

“We had a lot of deficiencies in the group, just because we saw Ryan go out there and we knew that he was gonna play really hard. And we kind of weren’t confident in what we could do, we weren’t playing to the best of our abilities."

Confidence is huge and I think the linebackers will be more confident going into this season and so will the secondary. 

jscummins24's picture

I agree. People say that losing Shazier and Roby will hurt, and maybe it will from a talent standpoint ONLY at those very positions, but we add talent/depth/confidence. We have an infusion of talent and depth that can actually challenge them to be great, ergo increasing their confidence or replacing them with someone who has more ability and confidence. We lose experience, but gain A LOT more talent. Urban is always adamant about depth, and we finally see why. I think the defense will be MUCH improved because of these reasons (and new scheme of course). 

Big Papa's picture

I completely disagree. If we are hoping that the linebackers will be better because Ryan is gone then we are in trouble. I position group does not get better by losing their best player. That is like saying the 2003 running backs were better because Maurice Clarret was suspended. That group of backs may have been the worst I have ever seen at OSU. I think they are trying to pour perfume on a pig by stating it is addition by subtraction. 

"To be the man you've gotta beat the man and just when you think you have all the answers, I change the question." The Nature Boy, Ric Flair

+2 HS
d5k's picture

Of course any reasonable person agrees with what you are saying but if it motivates them to play as a unit and play for each other then I don't care what illogical things they tell themselves.

whiskeyjuice's picture

I still have a hard time with this "addition by subtraction" thing. If Shazier stayed, Our LB unit would be insane this year. There is no way that I believe that the LB's are better w/o him than with him. 

"Championships are not won on Saturdays in November. Championships are won on Tuesdays in August." -- Kerry Combs

+2 HS
zenshade's picture

Agreed. All that really should have been said or implied was that the LB UNIT looks like it will be better overall than it was last year, due to the returning players stepping up and doing their jobs. Which shouldn't in any way be taken to mean they wouldn't be better still with RDS still back there.

Hovenaut's picture

I think the point I read from Fickell's and Perry's comments is that the unit was complacent last year, and stood back and let RDS do damage.

I also think that is b.s. (football being a team sport and all), but water under bridge.

The unit has to function together in order to be effective. I would absolutely have loved to welcome RDS back this season, but if the group can move forward without an RDS safety net I'll take it.

I'm saying the same thing on offense as well - it can't all be Braxton. The strength of the unit philosophy on both sides of the ball is an excellent approach - let's hope the guys can execute.

+5 HS
whiskeyjuice's picture

But then that sounds like a coaching issue. If they know that is going on, why would't they address it?

"Championships are not won on Saturdays in November. Championships are won on Tuesdays in August." -- Kerry Combs

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Valid question.

Did Fickell (he is the LB coach) recognize this last season? If he did, was it addressed with the unit?

I'm not getting the vibe that it was. I take Fickell's tone here being recollective. I do recall him putting the onus on the players to perform to task...horses led to water, etc.

I can't sit here and say I'm defending players/blaming coaches or vice-versa. Last year is done, I'm moving ahead. I like the comments made by player and coach who both recognize what didn't work last year...and are working together to improve in the here and now.

Because ultimately that's what all of us want to see, imho.

BlockO's picture

Fire Fickell

"faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum)

rdubs's picture

Comparing lbs to rbs doesn't make sense. Lbs must operate as a unit whereas rbs are just one person at a time.  A better example would be oline and Michigan's line might be better despite losing their best two players. Cohesiveness matters and relying on one guy doesn't build cohesion in the group. 

+6 HS
Phoenix824's picture

If the linebackers play as a unit rather than rely on one guy to always make the stop we could very well see addition by subtraction.   It is not hard to believe that Ryan was go good that maybe Grant would over commit to the other side of the field pre-play and thus be out of position at times or maybe not play so hard during some plays.    

+3 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

We are hoping that LB unit will be better overall not because Shazier is gone but in spite of him being gone. 

A position group can get better in spite of, not by, losing their best player.

Others below pointed out the fallacy of comparing RB units, in which the unit = starter + bench players, versus LB units = 3/4 players playing together in unison.

In 1983, Ohio State had lost their best LB from the previous season, Marcus Marek, yet the LB unit was even better than the year before. Marek, the all-time career tackles leader (572 tackles) at Ohio State, was probably another "crutch" guy.

No question, for Ohio State's 2014 LB unit to improve from last season, they'll need some talent jumps from the likes of Grant, Perry, Lee, maybe McMillan, etc. - not just better unit cohesion - but I'm optimistic that will happen.

+3 HS
bucknut1994's picture

brought back sad memories of lydell ross.

Jim Harbaugh is a tool
Les Wexner> Stephen Ross

NitroBuck's picture

You could be right, Pappa, but keep in mind that even with a great one like Shazier, collectively they were not playing all that well overall.  If they now have 3 guys all doing what they are supposed to do, and doing it reasonably well, there is a strong possibility that the group will perform better overall.  Even without Superman.  Time will tell.  And I countered one of your DV's.

Ferio.  Tego.

JohnnyKozmo's picture

The backs were worse obviously with Clarrett out, but that's a reflection of the lack of talented depth, more so than Clarrett not being there.   Pittman was a very good back, who had 1000yd season (maybe 2 of them, but I don't feel like researching to confirm).  He leaves, and it just so happens Beanie was waiting in the wings.

As a group, the LBs were a weakness, for whatever reason.  True, Shazier was a monster, but with the influx of talented youngsters, and improvement of veterans, I think you will see an improved group.  Probably won't see a headliner like Shazier who took over games, but improved overall play.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

Interesting logic, and I would tend to agree to a point, but having RDS is better than not having RDS no matter how you spin it.

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
jamesrbrown322's picture

Shazier was everything that you want out of a college football player. He was an exceptional talent, leader, player, and from all account, person. There is NO WAY that losing that caliber of all round player is a positive.

This is 100% coach speak, and I get some of it. For example, how often did we all see the rest of the Cavs/Heat stand around and just wait for LeBrown do something? I get the point, but this is clearly just a group trying to build confidence in their own playmaking abilities, and their coach attempting to cultivate that confidence.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

+3 HS
USMC11917's picture

Just now noticed the receiver for California, maybe Bigelow, laid one helluva block on our Nickleback on that play. Thankfully we had the crutch to bail us out on that.

+1 HS
Citrus's picture

Wow watching RDS read, react, and disengage his block on that play is something special. 

ITWASME's picture

Not his hardest hit of the season that would go to his one on Melvin Gordon on an end around where he knocked the shit out of him

ITWASME's picture

the whole video is great but the 4:17 mark is what I'm talking about

GreatLakesBeer's picture

I dont what was more impressive,,the tackle or the shedding of the block

If you will it dude, it is no dream

Big Papa's picture

I don't understand how losing a stud at linebacker and replacing him with a converted HS quarterback is supposed to make the group better. The LB coach is the same. I hope I am wrong but the group being better thru subtraction of a 1st round draft pick sounds like a lot of wishful thinking.  I hope that the group plays lights out but their underwhelming play the last three years has me very skeptical. 

"To be the man you've gotta beat the man and just when you think you have all the answers, I change the question." The Nature Boy, Ric Flair

-2 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

That's fine, but like Lesmerises you do understand how a LB unit that lost a 1st round NFL draft choice can actually be better the next season. You're just predicting that they'll be worse.

You're predicting that Perry and Grant won't be significantly better than they were last year, if at all, and that unproven players like Lee, McMillan, or others won't be good producers this season.

Because if we assume that the Buckeyes LB unit is getting B+ or above production out of 4 or 5 guys overall as well as B+ unit cohesiveness/discipline, and you still think that it will be worse than last year's unit, I don't know what to say.

+1 HS
Big Papa's picture

I guess that I would expect that if Curtis was going to improve that we would have seen something by now.  I can't predict he will be better because based on the body of work, which is all the evidence we have, there has been little to no improvement. He was benched in favor of a fullback for crying out loud. I think if there was something there to warrant this newfound praise we would have at least seen a glimpse by now. 

"To be the man you've gotta beat the man and just when you think you have all the answers, I change the question." The Nature Boy, Ric Flair

IGotAWoody's picture

Grant HAS shown improvement. He was significantly better last year than he was the previous year. It's quite reasonable to expect that he'll be better this year, as well.

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

+2 HS
SLVRBLLTS's picture

Some folks need to read the commenting policy. Downvotes are for trolls, not someone with whom you disagree.

"Because we couldn't go for three"

+1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

I disagree.

I kid because I love. I much prefer to leave a comment for someone rather than downvote them. However, people can use their downvotes however they want, and I'll never waste a moment thinking about why.

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

cdub4's picture

As RFR said, just as Shazier improved from year to year, they are basically returning 2 starters in Grant and Perry who will likely be better players than last season. I do think they are trying to put a positive spin on the situation, and that Shazier is a big loss, maybe the biggest from last season.

+1 HS
rdubs's picture

Calling Lee a converted qb is totally misleading he was always better at defense. 

+1 HS
RedsBuckeyeBoy's picture

I really hope the LBs are better...but I would have been willing to risk one more year of RDS.

+1 HS
yrro's picture

I dunno, basketball bucks got better losing Turner and gaining Sullinger. I think we'll be better, because a single player doesn't make a position group.

Will they be better than they would be if the other players grew up and Shazier stayed? Probably not, but they'll still be overall better than last year. Defense is defined by the weakest link, not the strongest.

BAR43's picture

Agreed. If I am not mistaken when we had Oden, we actually played better as a team when he was out injured. When we got him back in the NC game I felt like he actually limited us to some degree.

-1 HS
BAR43's picture

I am a huge RDS fan, one of my favorites... but I do understand and tend to agree with the article. Of course it would be great to have him back this year and watch the rest of the defense mature with his leadership. At the same time, the premise is that losing a leader gives opportunities for others to grow. As mentioned in article, I think a lot of people depended on RDS, now it forces them to grow, and hopefully instead of a one-man-wrecking-machine, we have 3-4 guys stand up. We don't need 120 tackles from one person, we will be just as good with 3 guys each having 40 tackles. The part that we cant over look, is just the shear talent and spark RDS did bring, but still it gives opportunity for the next man up.

+2 HS
buckeyepastor's picture

I could go along with this article if RDS had been out there with a couple of true or even RS freshmen LBs last year, who were a little bit green and too often let the action come to them because they were still getting their playing legs under them.   But Perry was in his second year at LB, Grant in his 3rd.   I trust that Perry and Grant have grown since last year, but given that they were already a couple years into the program, they should have been in a place already to step up.   Given the wrecking crew that RDS was against several opponents, I've gotta believe that their "crutch" was often taken away from them by double-teams and linemen going directly to the second level to move RDS out of the play.   

Doesn't matter now.  This year, their "crutch" is gone, and hopefully the coaching dynamics that allowed this sort of struggling to go on are gone, as well.  Go Bucks.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

buckeyedexter's picture

We lost a great one in Shazier, but that doesn't mean the LB group can't get better as a whole.  From all accounts Grant and Perry are much improved and Lee is a beast, plus we've really got some great young guys for depth. 

Also, I think the biggest problem last year wasn't the lack of ability of the individual players but some big gaps in the coaching/philosophy; I believe Ash in charge of the back 7 will clean that up.

+2 HS
James Mee's picture

It's easy for all of to say that have an opinion on this, but I'm going to go with the coaches. Urban and Co. haven't been the type to just tell everyone it's going to be great when it won't. I think losing Shazier will suck, but I tend to believe the coaches when they feel the rest of the unit slacked off because Shazier would make up for them. I also am excited to see what the freshmen will be able to do. 

+1 HS
My buck's picture

It's kind of like saying, would you rather have Tom Brady surrounded by no talent, or Russell Wilson surrounded by talent.  The team generally out performs the man.  If this team plays together as a single unit... Watch the #uck out!!

+4 HS
Mortc15's picture

Plain and simple: losing RDS doesn't make you better. Absolutely the depth should be better behind that, which I guess if you want to call the group better because of it, but you do NOT get better by losing a player like RDS. 

That doesn't mean I don't think the linebackers as a whole won't be better because I do, but if he were to be back again, they would surely be better with him than they will be without. 


+1 HS
Citrus's picture

I think the other backers improved as the season went along and are probably much better now than they were last year but if you plugged RDS into this group they would be that much better. 

+1 HS
buckskin's picture

Hopefully the unit takes more ownership of the play, but Perry provides us with insight into the attitude problem last year.  In his comments, there seemed to be a disconnect within the starting unit of RDS and the other two.  Instead of we, I heard a lot of Ryan and the rest of us.  Ryan could have made the unit better, but he couldn't control the attitudes of those around him.  Instead of inspiring others to achieve and play as a group (like the Hawk, Schlegal, Carpenter unit), they shrunk back and lost confidence.  A divided LB unit cannot achieve greatness on the field.  They all must be on the same page, playing together and matching each others effort; driving one another to be the best.  I am hopeful because a mental attitude is within each players control to change.

The simplified schematic change and better coaching unity this year will result in an improved defense.  With our talent on the DL requiring double teams, our LB crew has the opportunity to be a wrecking crew this year.

+1 HS
AirForceNUT's picture

Man I miss Hawk, Schlegal and Carpenter :(

southbay's picture

I've never played football, but I watch a lot of it on TV lol.  So I'm wondering, and maybe some guys here can help me.  If you have a guy like Shazier out there, does that maybe mean that the other linebackers alter their style of play, so they don't pursue as aggressively, because if everyone pursues the ball carrier like RDS then you have a problem, namely overpursuit?  So maybe there were often situations where Perry and Grant were containing, making sure the guy with the ball can't cut back to open field...as opposed to standing around and letting RDS do all the work?

I'm expecting this year's linebacker group to be more physical, even more effective overall, but different from when we had RDS.

Perry really looks like a man on a mission.

Am I crazy?

Buckloving's picture

Please God tell me we won't be worse


buckeyepastor's picture

This is totally an example of coaches trying to "spin" a bad situation.  OSU lost their best linebacker.   If Perry and Grant were struggling to the point that they saw Shazier as a crutch, then they were NOT in a position to step up and fill the void without him.  I sure as hell hope that has changed since the end of last year.   "Addition by subtraction" is when a departure makes room for someone even better.   When Pittman moved on, suddenly Beanie was able to fully showcase his abilities.   When Boeckman struggled, Pryor began to build a solid career at OSU.   When Stanley Jackson's time at OSU was over, our QB "rotation" was over and Joe Germaine got to put his mark on the team.   Shazier's departure gives OSU one less experienced scholarship player in a unit that has struggled with depth and experience over the last couple years.   If these statements about Shazier work to motivate the other guys psychologically, I'm all for it.   But that doesn't make them accurate at all.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

TressesVest's picture

Im not saying they are, or that RDS would even care, but when I first read this I thought it was a little disrespectful to Shazier. If I was him and I read that whole "addition by subtraction" bullshit I would be pretty pissed. In the 3 years of watching him play I never saw him take a play off. He might have missed and gotten out of position, but even then he was going full speed, and then sprinting to get back into position. And maybe if his fellow lbs stepped it up he wouldnt of had to do so much. So im not saying that they are slighting him, but I would just be careful when talking about one of our best players in years. And best teammates. He switched numbers last year to honor Bryant.

All in all I see no way were better off without the fastest linebacker in the country and who always was there to force a fumble when some RB is about to dive into the endzone and tie the TD record lol.

As a lifelong buckeye fan, im boycotting robert smith