2014 Season Preview: Ohio State's Linebackers

By Jeff Beck on August 15, 2014 at 10:45a
Curtis Grant hopes to have a successful swan song in Columbus.
35 Comments
Eleven Warriors' 2014 Ohio State Football Season Preview

Historically Ohio State’s linebacking corps has been a can’t-miss unit. Names like Chris Spielman, Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, A.J. Hawk, and Andy Katzenmoyer will forever go down in Buckeye lore.

The 2000s were particularly fruitful for the Scarlet and Gray as evidenced by ESPN awarding the Buckeyes the title “Linebacker U” in their 2000s “Position U” series two months ago. OSU claimed the honor in a blowout, beating second place Alabama by nearly 50 points on a scale that took into account award winners, consensus All-Americans, first-round picks etc.

Unfortunately over the last few seasons, history hasn’t repeated itself in Columbus. For the better part of Meyer’s time at the helm, the unit has been a punching bag. The combination of misses in recruiting, incorrect evaluations and a lack of player development caused a significant drop-off in production from the group. But there’s reason to believe the unit is on the rise in 2014.

The Linebackers in 2013

The moment Ryan Shazier decided to forego his senior season, the Buckeyes lost 55 percent of their starting linebacker tackles from 2013. For those counting at home, that’s Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant’s total combined tackles (64 and 52 respectively) failing to equal Shazier’s monster 144.

Junior linebacker Perry admitted playing alongside Shazier provided a crutch for the unit last season:

“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…We had a lot of deficiencies in the group, just because we saw Ryan go out there and we knew 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.”

Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, Luke Fickell, has even suggested the loss of Shazier has provided “addition by subtraction” with the light coming on for “five, six, seven guys” as they see a window of opportunity to step into playing time. That’s good news for any Buckeye fan as depth at the unit was an issue last year with all linebackers outside of the starting three failing to tally more than 15 tackles.

The Starters

Right now, the only player who appears to have a starting spot locked down is Perry. The junior ranked fourth on the team in tackles last season and has been busy in Mickey Marotti’s workshop to ensure that number climbs this year. Perry will move to the weak side this season, opening up a spot on the strong side, which (at least for Navy) will most likely go to sophomore Darron Lee (though redshirt freshman Chris Worley, Fickell maintains, isn't far behind).

Ohio State Linebacker Depth
No. Pos Name Ht Wt Yr Hometown
44 LB BERGER, KYLE 6-1 229 FR Cleveland, OH
30 LB BOGARD, DEVAN 6-0 210 JR Cleveland, OH
33 LB BOOKER, DANTE 6-2 220 FR Akron, OH
48 LB BURGER, JOE 6-2 230 JR Cincinnati, OH
38 LB FADA, CRAIG 6-0 233 JR Columbus, OH
14 LB GRANT, CURTIS 6-3 240 SR Richmond, VA
36 LB JOHNSON, TREY 6-1 225 SO Lawrenceville, GA
43 LB LEE, DARRON 6-2 230 SO New Albany, OH
42 LB MAWHIRTER, AARON 6-2 230 SO Sandusky, OH
5 LB McMILLAN, RAEKWON 6-2 240 FR Hinesville, GA
37 LB PERRY, JOSHUA 6-4 250 JR Galena, OH
46 LB SNYDER, NICK 6-1 215 JR Columbus, OH
55 LB WILLIAMS, CAMREN 6-1 231 JR West Roxbury, MA
35 LB WORLEY, CHRIS 6-2 218 FR Cleveland, OH

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Lee wowed coaches during the offseason, and he spent the majority of spring ball with the ones. He’s been singled out time and time again as a kid who goes incredibly hard. While it’s clear he has some growth to do (moving from covering kickoffs to a starting linebacker spot will do that to you), it appears his number will be called in Baltimore.

Of all the position battles, the starting middle linebacker spot presents the most intrigue. Grant is entering his final season in Columbus and his career hasn’t progressed as quickly as many believed. Hyped as an all-everything five-star out of high school, Grant has struggled to fill the stat sheet during his three years in the program. This season has a bit of a do-or-die feel for Grant as he’s being pushed by a player made in his likeness: five-star freshman Raekwon McMillan.

McMillan has impressed the coaching staff immediately and accolades have been doled out in tandem. McMillan and freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon were given the honor of spending the first days of fall camp with the upperclassmen and Raekwon was one of the first freshmen to lose his black stripe.

It sounds like Grant has embraced the competition and believes it will push him to succeed. McMillan might not be held out of a starting spot all year, but I still like Grant to start August 30th.

The Backups

Meyer and company have been working to re-stock the cupboards when it comes to the linebacking unit, and they will continue to do so in 2015. Because of that due-diligence, this could be the first year Meyer’s Buckeye linebackers have some semblance of depth.

Worley practiced as a safety last year, but is pushing Lee for playing time. It should be interesting to watch him progress.

Other backups who contributed last season include junior Camren Williams, who had 15 tackles and backed Perry on the strong side, sophomore Trey Johnson, who finished last season with 11 tackles, junior Devan Bogard, who contributed seven tackles and junior Joe Burger, who ended the year with two tackles.

In addition to McMillan, the coaching staff brought in two new recruits in four stars Kyle Berger and Dante Booker. Unfortunately, Berger re-tore his ACL in camp and is out indefinitely. The hope is he can get back on his feet soon. It’s not clear if Booker will see playing time immediately, but if Fickell is right about “five, six, seven” guys that can contribute, Dante could factor in.

Overview

The Buckeyes lost Ryan Shazier, the 2013 Big Ten leader in tackles, an Associated Press All-American and first-round NFL Draft pick. That kind of production isn’t something you replace overnight. But, the coaching staff believes the loss of Shazier will be addition by subtraction as the remaining players on the unit are hungry to fill the void.

2013 Defensive Statistics
Name Solo Ast Total Loss Sk
PERRY, JOSHUA 38 26 64 2 1
GRANT, CURTIS 24 28 52 3.5 2
WILLIAMS, CAMREN 6 9 15 0 0
JOHNSON, TREY 5 6 11 0 0
BOGARD, DEVAN 6 1 7 0 0
BURGER, JOE 1 1 2 0 0

The combination of a simplified defensive scheme, an attitude adjustment, and an infusion of young talent has the coaching staff high on the group headed into fall. The unit has a good mix of veterans and underclassmen that should help speed up the progression.

Meyer has long been down on the linebackers, but their work over the summer has him feeling confident. Urban isn’t big on undue praise which is why this quote from Big Ten Media Days should give Buckeye fans hope for the future:

“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.”

Etc.

  • McMillan was the highest rated player in the 2014 recruiting class
  • Dante Booker was named Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2013
  • The addition of Chris Worley in 2013 helped OSU continue the streak of at least one Glenville Tarblooder in every recruiting class since 2002
  • Darron Lee’s mother, Candice, is a reporter for NBC4, Columbus’ NBC affiliate
35 Comments

Comments

apack614's picture

I didn't realize how many of our LB's were from Ohio!

"If we worked half as hard as our band, we'd be champions." - Woody Hayes

+3 HS
BAR43's picture

FYI, Kyle Berger is a Freshman, not to take away from the article. Just wanted to point it out. Its listed wrong on the espin roster too.

I think we have a lot of talent and I am anxious to see who will step up. I don't think we need one big stud, I think we need a cohesive group all running and making gang tackles.

+1 HS
Jeff Beck's picture

Yep good catch. Had it right in the article but wrong in the chart. Thank you.

Sightlygrain6's picture

Had the privilege to meet Dante Booker last spring. Super nice, quiet kid. Really hope he does well in the coming years.

MN Buckeye's picture

Booker does not get the publicity that we see for Raekwon, but I see him as an important contributor this year.

+2 HS
sharks's picture

Looks like the Glenville streak ends in 2015, but it'll be the second straight year a Cass kid signs up.

The postgame show is brought to you by... Christ, I can't find it. The hell with it...

BeatTTUN's picture

So happy to see that we actually have DEPTH at LB.

Go Buckeyes Beat Michigan

BucksfanXC's picture

You used the phrase "addition by subtraction" several times about losing Shazier. I'm not sure if the coaches actually said that or not, but it's counterdictory to "you can't replace an All-American who lead the team in tackles"

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

BeijingBucks's picture

we don't replace.. we reload

and last year was kinda russian roulette.  this year we are filling all the chambers.  please?

 

 

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
zenshade's picture

That got talked about a lot when Fickell first said it. The more appropriate interpretation is that they aren't going to be better as a unit than they would have been if Shazier had stayed, but they will be better than you'd think because the other guys know they have to take that next step up, that it's all on them now.

+6 HS
BucksfanXC's picture

Yeah, I'll agree with that and I understand that is what was meant, but that's not really clear.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Vinsaniti's picture

In 15 short days we will take th first step to bring back Linebacker U

+3 HS
SilverBullet-98's picture

I though Sam Hubbard 6'6 220-230? was moving back to LB???

My gosh the space his frame takes up in pass defense, and a very nice open feild tackler.

Could see him taking 6'4 250 Josh Perry's spot next year if things go well and the stigma of being a slow kids from ohio doesn't leave him off lists the coaches make let alone bloggers.

"The Past Builds the Future"

+1 HS
zenshade's picture

If Hubbard takes Josh Perry's spot, that sounds like things going bad, as from all accounts Perry has been very solid to spectacular. Unless you meant it's likely Perry leaves early after having a monster season.

+2 HS
SilverBullet-98's picture

I meant eventually either after graduation or a early trip to Sunday Football. Or forbid another injury.

Sorry I didn't specify that.

But it is possible for a younger kid to pass a older, atleast I hope so. These ain't Union Jobs", lol.

"The Past Builds the Future"

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

I think the 2-3 year hiatus from Linebacker U is over. The current group is top-notch talent, and the successes they have this season, and the defense as a whole, will reap rewards going forward in future recruiting cycles. 

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!

gumtape's picture

Candice Lee >> Mindy Drayer

just another psycho, irrational, delusional Ohio St fan

+4 HS
SpielmanForPres's picture

I may be misinterpreting Perry's quote, but I find it weak that he thinks they underperformed because they knew Shazier had their backs. 

Tater_Schroeder's picture

I understand where you are coming from, but I don't think Perry intended it to sound like they didn't play hard because Ryan was there. They thought of him as their "safety net" and knew they could get away with mistakes while he was around. I think his comments are more of a compliment to Ryan than a condemnation of themselves.

How Firm Thy Friendship

+3 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

It makes sense that this could have been happening on a subconscious level.

If you know you're not the man, then you aren't going to play like him.

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?

Maestro's picture

Hope Cam Williams has improved.  The drop-off when he had to play last season was noticeable.

vacuuming sucks

+3 HS
mtrotb's picture

The sun has set on Williams.  The days spent watching him miss tackles and having poor angles is over. I watch replays of the Michigan game and he played terribly.  His playing time will decrease big times this year.

mtrotb

TURD_BUCKET's picture

Yes, where is Sam Hubbard? I look for Josh Perry to bring it this year. His comments in the article sound like 'coach speak' from a team meeting. At least I hope so, lol. Getting three LBs on the field at the same time ( more than last year / less 'nickel' ) this year should help their tackle stats.  Depth is starting to look pretty good, with lots of "potential". Also, IMO, those comments made by Josh Perry point more towards a coaching issue than anything else. Time to coach 'em up Coach Fick!!!

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.”

+1 HS
Dread's picture

If you think about it, Shazier has kept LBU going. When we roll into next decade we will speak of all the great Linebackers and that list will start with RDS. My expectation is for OSU to be Linebacker U of the 2010's. 

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

I really believe Grant puts it together this year.  The guy is a physical specimen.  It hurts me to say that, because I want to see the Chef as much as anyone else.  I really hope to see some packages with  both on the field, especially against some of the run first offenses that are on the schedule (Navy, Va Tech, Wisconsin, MSU)

+1 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

At what point is Trey Johnson a bust?

I remember people talking about the tandem of him and Mitchell being the next great LB duo at tOSU

Not trolling, but when does he get his turn? After Perry?

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?

-1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

He has to earn his turn-nothing is going to be given to him.  The way Urban and Company are recruiting, especially at LB, he's going to have to step up and take a spot.

Rob Reese's picture

Waaaaaaaay too early to call the kid a bust.  I'm not even sure what that would be based off of?   He was a freshman last year!  Trey Johnson is the real deal.  I expect to see a lot of him this season once conference play starts, and next.

"All I have known at Michigan is failure.  That's all I know." - Taylor Lewan

+1 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

Not trying to be a debbie downer. I just had hoped to be hearing his name more in practice reports.

The post was even more of a question anyways, will he be the SAM after Perry is gone? Because with the creation of the Walkout LB, there's essentially one less position Johnson could play. Actually I think he could only play SAM at this point.

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?

SilverBullet-98's picture

You put your best on the feild, to hell with seniority, favoritism, or anything else, unless the carts pulls the horse at Ohio St.

If you deserve to play, you should play, play the best!!!

"The Past Builds the Future"

+1 HS
CHUCKMEGA's picture

Any word on how Trey Johnson is playing this spring? I remember him in the high school all star games and he was a beast!

bucks15's picture

He's been hurt throughout most of camp.  If I recall correctly UFM mentioned he'd be out 2-3 weeks, this was about a week ago.  

wyatt's picture

The OSU LBs need to cover the short passes out of the backfield. They got killed last year on short pass plays. From what I've heard, Donte Booker is the real deal. I look forward to seeing Raekwon, Booker and the rest stop the dink-and-dunk plays.

NYC Buckeye's picture

Guess I completely missed when Bogard switched over to LB.. He was recruited as a corner right?

Interesting how the tradition of unheralded LBs becoming leaders/starters (Rolle, Laurinitis, Homan) seems to continue under Urban..

Nairion's picture

No offense, great article and thanks fir the read, but.....

How the heck do you not mention LittleAnimal in your list of Buckeye great LBs???