Way Too Early Look: Linebackers (updated)

Written April 15th, 2010 by Jim

Long time readers (if there are any of you out there) know that linebacker is my favorite position, so this should be fun. Adding to the fun is the absolutely ridiculous amount of talent that the Buckeyes are packing in the linebacking corps right now.

Ohio State has depth, experience, talent, youth, and probably a few other things at linebacker going in to next year.

The only loss from last year is fifth year senior Austin Spitler.

Spitler was a solid performer for the Buckeyes last season (38 tackles, 5 tfl, 1 sack), and he did have some great moments, but there are several players waiting in the wings to take his place, and if there is any drop off at all, it should be minimal.

It can’t be overstated how much talent Ohio State has here. So rather than getting out a thesaurus and trying to find some creative adjectives, I will simply jump right in.

Join me after the jump for an in depth look at the 2010 Buckeye linebackers.

First, I want to say that out of all of the positions, linebacker is one of the more difficult ones to guess what the depth chart is actually going to look like next year. The two returning starters are pretty easy to place, but outside of that, the competition for the third spot as well as who will be the primary back ups is going to be intense this spring and will continue right up until the first game and probably beyond.

The good news is that high levels of competition makes everyone better, the bad news is that it is hard to predict who will end up where (and that is just me being selfish, there isn’t really any bad news about that).

Throwing an extra kink into the process is the willingness Ohio State’s coaches have shown to move each player from position to position until they think they have the absolute best group of players on the field.

Exhibit A for this willingness to shuffle linebackers is Brian Rolle. Heading into the spring last year, no one predicted that Rolle would be playing middle linebacker all season, but the coaches experimented and tinkered, tried out different players at different positions, and 95 tackles later, I would say we found a pretty damn good middle linebacker.

While I don’t anticipate anyone making a similar move this spring, especially considering we have two returning starters, it makes guessing the back ups quite difficult. So, I am going to make an educated guess, put everyone somewhere just so I can talk about them, and go from there.

First up, the middle linebackers.

Middle Linebacker (Mike)


Brian Rolle is the obvious starter here. As I mentioned, his move to the middle was pretty experimental last spring, but Rolle performed exceptionally well all season (95 tackles, 37 solo, 7 tfl, 1 int) and solidified himself as the starter.

Rolle isn’t as big as your prototypical middle linebacker (5’11″ 221 lbs.), but he more than makes up for his lack of size with explosive quickness that allows him avoid blockers at the line of scrimmage and cover the field from sideline to sideline.

I expect Rolle to be one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, and the one thing that might hold him back from some serious national recognition is teammate Ross Homan (more on him later). The media will probably choose one or the other to gush over, so one may have to play the role of Bobby Carpenter to the others A.J. Hawk.

As I mentioned, beyond the starters things probably won’t get settled for awhile. For now, I am going to put Storm Klein on the depth chart behind Rolle. Klein played in all 13 games last year as a true freshman and recorded 10 tackles.

Klein has ideal size for a linebacker (6’2″ 230 lbs.) and the fact that the coaches put him on the field in every game as a true freshman says a lot about his ability. The future is bright for Klein, and even if it isn’t in the middle, he will see the field a lot next year.

For the third slot (it’s probably going to be more like 2a and 2b in the spring) I will go with Dorian Bell.

Bell was a 5 star recruit coming out of high school who was redshirted last season (sick ridiculous depth at LB and all that). His combination of size and speed is outstanding and I think he could end up being a slightly taller version of Rolle (which is why I put him in the middle).

I think Bell will get a crack at the middle due to his similarities with Rolle. Regardless of where, it is hard to imagine Bell not getting on the field next season, and like all of the backups, he will most likely be shuffled around a lot until the coaches find a way to get him on the field the earliest.

Year # Name Height Weight GP/GS Tackles Solo TFL Int
Senior 36 Brian Rolle 5’11″ 221 lbs. 13/13 95 37 7 1
Sophomore 32 Storm Klein 6’2″ 220 lbs. 13/0 10 7 - -
RS Freshman 11 Dorian Bell 6’1″ 220 lbs. 0/0 - - - -

Update: The spring depth chart has Jordan Whiting as the #3 guy in the middle and Dorian Bell is the #2 on the weak side behind Ross Homan. Even that is not set in stone at this point though.

Weak Side Linebacker (Will)


The other returning starter at linebacker is Ross Homan on the weak side. As I mentioned, Homan and Rolle will battle each other next year for media attention, and honestly, they both probably deserved more attention than they received in 2009.

Just for fun, here are two stat lines.

Tackles Solo TFL Sacks Int FF
108 57 5 2 5 1
115 53 8.5 4 5 3

One is from James Laurinaitis‘ 2006 season, the other is from Ross Homan‘s 2009 season. Not much of a difference… is there?

Laurinaitis was a 1st Team All-American in 2006 and was named the best defensive player in college football, Homan wasn’t even 1st Team All-Big Ten.

So ummm…. yeah, Homan had a pretty good year despite not receiving much media attention (and in all fairness, you can’t really argue with the players that were selected 1st Team Big Ten last season).

Regardless, Homan is a tackling machine with a knack for the big play and will be looking to build off of an excellent season in 2009.

The first person off the bench on the weak side will most likely be Andrew Sweat (update: Sweat is listed at #2 on the strong side on the spring depth chart).

Sweat received playing time in the first seven games last season before an injury ended his year. In those seven games, he tallied 15 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 interception.

Like all of the linebackers at Ohio State, Sweat is extremely talented and will see the field plenty next season.

Finally, there is incoming freshman Scotty McVey. Even though it is extremely likely that McVey will redshirt next year, I am going to put him here because he is a natural fit for the weak side (great in space and a sure tackler) and it is probably where he will end up playing when he does see the field.

Year # Name Height Weight GP/GS Tackles Solo TFL Int
RS Senior 51 Ross Homan 6’0″ 229 lbs. 13/13 108 57 5 5
Junior 42 Andrew Sweat 6’2″ 220 lbs. 7/0 15 9 1 1
Freshman ? Scotty McVey 5’11″ 215 lbs. 0/0 - - - -

Update: As I mentioned, I got this one pretty wrong. Sweat is listed at #2 on the strong side, Dorian Bell is listed at #2 here, and Jim Hastings is listed at #3 (even though McVey isn’t on campus yet, so it’s only natural that he’s not on the depth chart at this point).

Strong Side Linebacker (Sam)


This is the spot vacated by Spitler, so the competition to see who plays here will be fierce. I don’t want to rule out any of the linebackers from earning this spot because every single one of them will probably be given a shot here in the spring. At the same time, there is a pretty clear favorite heading into the start of practice.

That favorite, as far as I’m concerned, is Etienne Sabino.

Sabino is heading into his third season as a Buckeye, and hopefully he is ready to step into the starting lineup. By most accounts, he is an amazing athlete with all the tools necessary to be an outstanding linebacker. Unfortunately, the mental aspect of the game has apparently been holding him back.

Many people thought that Sabino would play the Mike position when he came to Ohio State, but when Rolle earned the starting spot last season, Sabino moved to the strong side and was the back up for Spitler (who was also supposed to play Mike heading into the season but moved to the strong side as well).

The Sam linebacker spends a lot of time close to the line of scrimmage and their primary role is to stop the run. Sabino is the ideal size for this roll (6’3″ 232 lbs.) but he also has the speed and athleticism to play in space if needed. This versatility is something that Spitler lacked for the most part last year so it should be interesting to see how the coaches utilize Sabino next season.

Also in the mix on the strong side is Tyler Moeller.

Update: wrong, Moeller is being used primarily at safety or star in the spring.

Moeller‘s season was over before it began last year due to some extremely unfortunate circumstances. Before the incident, he was a favorite to earn a starting spot and in the spring game he was by far the most impressive defensive player.

He is a bit undersized (particularly for the strong side) but his tenacity against the run and as a pass rusher makes him a ideal for the position no matter how big he is. If Moeller is healthy enough to play (at this point I don’t see why he wouldn’t be, but head injuries are very serious and I wouldn’t want him to return if he is not completely cleared to do so) he will jump to the top of the list of linebackers looking for playing time.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if Moeller does come back, he will very quickly become a fan favorite when he is on the field.

Finally, there is Jordan Whiting.

Whiting redshirted last season, so there isn’t much to talk about in the way of stats. But by most accounts, he has an outstanding attitude on and off the field and will compete no matter where he ends up at.

Year # Name Height Weight GP/GS Tackles Solo TFL Int
Junior 6 Etienne Sabino 6’3″ 232 lbs. 13/0 6 3 .5 -
RS Junior 26 Tyler Moeller 6’0″ 216 lbs. 0/0 - - - -
RS Freshman 39 Jordan Whiting 6’1″ 235 lbs. 0/0 - - - -

Update: Once again, I was wrong here outside of Sabino, who does look to have the starting spot locked down. Moeller is playing DB this spring, Whiting is listed at #3 in the middle.

Andrew Sweat is listed at #2 on the strong side even though he has been limited by injuries so far, with Jon Newsome and Tony Jackson listed at #3 and #4.

Conclusion


So there you have it. This is one of the deepest and most talented linebacking corps in all of college football. If the defensive line can fill in some holes and continue what they started last year, Ohio State is looking at an outstanding front seven on defense.

It should be fun to watch.

Stay tuned for spring ball, these nine linebackers are going to be putting on a show to try and earn playing time.

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