After reviewing the defensive line yesterday, we move next to the linebackers. A position that has always been solid for the Silver Bullets regardless of graduations, replacing two starters from 2010 should not prevent this year’s group from being solid to spectacular once again.
The starting group of three has been set with little or no rotation since the first day of practice.
The second team has been a different story. Due to attrition this offseason (Jon Newsome, Dorian Bell) there has been plenty of rotation looking for the new back ups.
Despite the heavy rotation, there is plenty of talent that will be more than capable of backing up the starters.
Here is a player by player look at the two-deep.
#42 Senior, WLB
6’2″ 238 lbs.
Going into camp, it was no secret that Andrew Sweat would be the most experienced linebacker in 2011 and a lock for one of the starting spots. He gained experience starting on the strong side last year and even moved to the weak side for two games in place of an injured Ross Homan.
Sweat will return as the starter on the weak side this season and will be the leader of the linebackers. During practice and in the jersey scrimmage he has shown a knack for knifing through the line and making hits in the backfield.
While not as heralded as former weak side linebackers like A.J. Hawk (who is?), Sweat is a sure tackler and has great football instincts, which make him a favorite to lead the team in tackles in 2011.
#6 RS Junior, SLB/MLB
6’3″ 242 lbs.
Etienne Sabino’s surprise redshirt last season has been well documented at this point, so let me just say that he is primed for a break out year in 2011.
Sabino mans the strong side linebacker position in Ohio State’s traditional 4-3 look and slides over to the middle (replacing Klein) when a star comes on the field in the nickel package.
Unfortunately, he broke his hand in the jersey scrimmage on Saturday which will limit him for the remainder of practices. He should be ready to go (with a cast on his hand) for Akron on September 3rd, however.
With great size and athleticism, many fans have been anxiously waiting to see what Sabino can do ever since he arrived on campus. With any luck, this year will mark the end of that wait and Etienne will put on a show.
#32 Junior, MLB
6’2″ 240 lbs.
Storm Klein is an old school Big Ten linebacker with a name to match.
During practice, he plays the middle linebacker spot in the traditional 4-3 look, and with Sabino’s broken hand, he will likely stay there in the nickel package for the remainder of the preseason as well. Before the injury, Klein was the linebacker replaced by the star.
It will be interesting to see how the defense adjusts with a bigger player in the middle this season. Brian Rolle played there the last two years and played well, but against some of the power rushing Big Ten teams, Rolle’s smaller size proved to be a negative at times.
Klein is anything but small, and like Sweat on the outside, he combines a knack for shooting gaps with sure tackling and great instincts.
Sabino’s broken hand will give Klein an opportunity to prove he can be an every down linebacker. Every down or no, between Sabino, Klein, and Sweat, the starting group is in great shape.
#26 RS Senior, Star
6’0″ 210 lbs.
Once again, Tyler Moeller was limited by an injury this camp, but it appears to be minor and his non-participation entirely precautionary. This is good news for fans hoping to see Moeller 100% healthy this season after a long and unfortunate history with injury issues.
When full go (hopefully on September 3rd), Moeller is a fearless ball hawk who is one of the best blitzers on the entire team. His quickness and history at linebacker and safety make him the perfect answer to defend against spread offenses (and thus the perfect star).
It really can’t be overstated how much fun it is to watch Moeller on the field, and we hope with all our might that he is able to stay healthy and on it.
#2 Sophomore, Star/SS
5’9″ 190 lbs.
Precautionary or not, Moeller on the sidelines means that Christian Bryant plays with the first team at star. He combines the quickness of a defensive back with the fearlessness of a linebacker (once again, the perfect star).
Only a sophomore, Christian Bryant saw the field last season before being sidelined by injury. When healthy, he has the potential to be a difference maker on the defense, whether it is at star or strong safety (where he plays with the second team).
Backing up two positions tells us all we need to know about what the coaching staff thinks of Bryant; they want him on the field. Fans will find out why for themselves soon enough.
#39 RS Sophomore, MLB
6’1″ 238 lbs.
Jordan Whiting faces a two game suspension at the beginning of the season, but with Storm Klein and Etienne Sabion ahead of him, that shouldn’t be much of an issue (particularly considering the opponents in those two games).
Despite missing the first two games, Whiting has been splitting time on the second team at middle linebacker. Extremely strong with a low center of gravity, he is built perfectly to excel in the middle.
He will see the field this season, and only at a place like Ohio State do you see a player this good providing depth.
#41 Senior, MLB
5’10″ 225 lbs.
Tony Jackson is the other player splitting time at middle linebacker with the second team. A walk-on who has been a solid contributor on special teams, he was extremely impressive during winter conditioning and has a great attitude and drive.
Despite being a walk-on, he shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the leadership and attitude he brings to the field will be valuable at the very least.
#10 Freshman, WLB
6’2″ 212 lbs.
Ryan Shazier is without a doubt the quickest linebacker on the roster already, and while it couldn’t hurt for him to add some muscle, the fact that he shot up to the second team during camp speaks volumes (coming in for spring practice didn’t hurt either).
He made some very impressive plays tracking down Braxton Miller in the jersey scrimmage on Saturday. With his speed and instincts, the sky will be the limit for Shazier.
It should be especially interesting to see what he can do on blitzes when he gets on the field this season.
#20 RS Senior, WLB
6’0″ 215 lbs.
A former safety, Nate Oliver has been getting time on the weak side with the second team during practice. Given the depth, that will likely be a permanent move for him.
He is very experienced in the system, but the move to linebacker this late in his career could be an issue.
At the very least, he provides an experienced and dependable option to complement the explosive but inexperienced Shazier.
#59 RS Junior, SLB
6’3″ 230 lbs.
Despite being listed as a linemen on the roster (LEO), Stewart Smith has shot up to the second team at strong side linebacker during camp (which makes sense given the similarities between the positions).
A walk-on with experience on special teams, I have been very impressed with what he has been able to do during practices. The coaches have been similarly impressed considering his position on the second team.
Having multiple walk-ons in the two deep could be a concern, but having the option to bring in the stars eliminates that worry somewhat, and I believe Smith will be able to hold up either way.
#38 RS Freshman, WLB/SLB
6’0″ 235 lbs.
McVey has battled injury issues that go all the way back to high school. He was limited during winter conditioning with a shoulder issue and was in shorts during the jersey scrimmage with an unknown ailment.
When healthy, he has been splitting time on the second team on the weak side. He reminds me a lot of a young Tyler Moeller (although he is quite a bit bulkier), which is a nice comparison on multiple levels considering he can’t seem to stay on the field.
#23 RS Freshman, Star/SLB
6’0″ 225 lbs.
Hagan is yet another player that has been splitting time on the second team with the linebackers during camp. Given that the strong side linebacker and the star generally replace one another, it is difficult to tell which one Hagan is considered when he is on the field.
Given Nate Ebner’s frequent appearances on the second team at star and the depth situation at strong side linebacker, it seems likely that is where Hagan will focus on.
#34 Senior, Star
6’0″ 205 lbs.
With Moeller sidelined and Bryant moving up to the first team, Nate Ebner has been spending a majority of his time at star with the second team.
A walk-on that came over from the rugby team, Ebner has been a staple on special teams the past few season and brings a toughness to the field like only a rugby players could.
He is a fiesty competitor that will continue to stand out on special teams if nothing else.
For those of you keeping track, that gives a starting unit of: Etienne Sabino at SLB, Storm Klein at MLB, Andrew Sweat at WLB (4-3), and Tyler Moeller/Christian Bryant at star, Etienne Sabino at MLB, Andrew Sweat at WLB (Nickel).
With the second unit consisting of: Stewart Smith/Chad Hagan at SLB, Jordan Whiting/Tony Jackson at MLB, Ryan Shazier/Nate Oliver/ Scott McVey at WLB (4-3), and Christian Bryant/Nate Ebner at star, Jordan Whiting/Tony Jackson at MLB, Ryan Shazier/Nate Oliver/Scott McVey at WLB (Nickel).
Once again, the heavy rotation on the second team is likely due to the loss of several players right before camp.
Outside of some depth concerns on the strong side, the second group still has plenty of talent, with Ryan Shazier in particular making some noise.
Linebackers and Ohio State equals excellence once again in 2011.