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Filling the Void: Buckeyes looking to youth for answers at Linebacker


(Ryan Shazier needs to be leader in 2013 – Photo courtesy USA Today Sports/Donnovan Young)

12-0…. Perfect. 

That was the Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 season, one that could've ended with a Big Ten title and a National Championship game appearance had players before them and Jim Tressel not been idiots. Alas, Urb's 1st season in Columbus was the best it could possibly be. 

A lot of that was thanks to a very talented and productive front seven, but as they enter 2013 that front seven is now a completely unknown entity and two-thirds of the linebacking Corp – a staple of any Ohio State and Urban Meyer coached team – are gone. 

It's one of the biggest battles in Columbus this spring and if there isn't a feel of stability to the position group it could spell trouble for the now postseason ban free Buckeyes.

Background

Linebacker has a rather significant history at THE Ohio State University to say the least and really I doubt any of you need a reminder of some of the names that have put on the scarlet and grey and patrolled the middle of the defense for the Buckeyes. That said, this season is going to be very interesting as the Buckeyes face an uncertain future with two-thirds of their linebacking Corp from a season ago gone.

Yes, the slogan "Next Man Up" comes into play and this is tOSU we are talking about, here. It's not as if they aren't supposed to be loaded with 5 and 4 star talent at every position group, right? Well, that may be true, but it's also a group with virtually no experience returning as well and talent is no guarantee of results.

Not only are two starters missing, but half of the two deep from the end of the season on the 2013 roster, so there is a lack of proven depth no matter where you look along the linebacker group.

So, who's stepping in and stepping up? Who can we expect to become household names this fall? Let's dive in to a messy situation in the middle of the Buckeye defense.

Who's Leaving?

Etienne Sabino (2012 stats): 45 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception

Zach Boren (2012 stats): 50 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery

Who's Filling the Void?

That's the $1 million dollar question. If you have the answers please, please let us and the Ohio State coaching staff know. There aren't any specific players with definitive starting spots locked down at middle linebacker or at the outside linebacker spot opposite Shazier.

What's Happening this Spring

The good news is that Ryan Shazier is around and he just happens to have had one of the best 2012 seasons of any linebacker in the Big Ten. However, he'll go from a play making role to a role of leadership as well as making plays (and his 115 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss in 2012 suggest he'll be just fine). 

Look for junior Curtis Grant to have perhaps his last shot at locking down the middle linebacker spot this spring. He was in the mix last year and lost out, moving around the linebacking Corp as a backup. The problem with that? He played in just 8 games and made just 8 tackles in those games. 

Outside and opposite of Shazier the first crack is going to Josh Perry, playing all of 48 snaps on defense last season. But expect him to be in a battle with about four other sophomores who were mainly special teams players.

What to expect heading into summer and fall?

Expect a lot of competition and not a lot of answers to be known. Especially since we haven't seen the spring game happen yet (April 13) and there are a lot of names with little experience. In fact it wouldn't be surprising to see these battles play out into the non-conference season. Practice is one thing, but playing every down or the majority of downs in a real game is completely different. 

In the end expect Grant and Perry to be the likely guys to take over, but also watch for a push from incoming recruits like Trey Johnson (MLB) and Mike Mitchell (OLB) when they get on campus this fall – we all know Urban is about getting the best players on the field regardless of their class.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college football for nearly half a decade. He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadgers.com and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com

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