And now it is time for the much anticipated return of my look at the various position groups this season.
[crowd cheers loudly]
I wasn’t sure which group I should go back and look at first, or when I should go back and re-evaluate each position, but I figure after three games we are starting to get a pretty solid idea of what we have at most positions this year, so what better time than now? As for what position to start with, what the heck, I might as well go back and look at my favorite position, the linebackers.
Ah, linebackers, how nice is it to always be awesome at something. Seriously, when was the last time Ohio State has not had a bad ass linebacker?
I will answer my own question.
There was three time All-American James Laurinaitis from ’05 to ’08, two time All-American A.J. Hawk from ’02 to ’05, All-American Matt Wilhelm from ’99 to ’02, All-American Na’il Diggs from ’96 to ’99, All-American Andy Katzenmoyer from ’96 to ’98, two time All-American Steve Tovar from ’89 to ’92, two time All-American Chris Spielman from ’84 to ’87, All-American Pepper Johnson from ’82 to ’85, All-American Marcus Marek from ’79 to ’82, two-time All-American Tom Cousineau from ’75 to ’78 and two time All-American Randy Gradishar from ’71 to ’73.
So I guess technically the last time Ohio State has not had an All-American caliber bad ass at LB was in ’95. Still, Ohio State has had a (future or current) All-American linebacker on the roster in thirty of the last thirty-eight seasons. Not too shabby.
I know I sound like a broken record on this one, but Ohio State’s linebacker tradition is as good or better than any other school in the country.
I will probably be taking a look at Ohio State’s linebackers through the years versus a certain other school that thinks they have had some good linebackers as well. It should be interesting at the very least, so you can look forward to that.
Back to this year, while I am not sure that any Ohio State linebackers will be All-Americans in 2009, I am sure that two players are emerging as All-American caliber players. They are #51 Ross Homan and #36 Brian Rolle and so far they have both been looking very capable of continuing the tradition of Ohio State linebacking badassness.
First I want to look at the middle linebacker spot, where Brian Rolle has emerged beyond my wildest expectations. The “somewhat surprising” and “experimental” move to put Rolle in the middle that I discussed in my first look at the linebackers appears to be permanent and can be described as nothing short of a huge success.
Through three games Rolle is the leading tackler on the team with 25 stops and he has made the play of the year (so far) with his game saving interception and return against Navy.
Rolle’s quickness in the middle has allowed him to avoid blockers with ease and to get to the ball in a hurry with bad intentions.
My prediction that Rolle would see the field a lot and be a fan favorite is working out beyond anything I had envisioned and if Rolle continues to play at the level he is currently at (and he might even improve!!) I can definitely see him getting some serious consideration for post season Big Ten accolades and he could even be a legit All-American candidate heading into 2010.
Good stuff, Mr. Rolle, keep it up.
Also worth noting is that true freshman #32 Storm Klein has moved into the two-deep at middle linebacker on the depth chart released for the Illinois game. I mentioned previously that Klein had impressed during spring ball and had been running with the second team in fall camp. Given his recent move up the depth chart, it looks like Klein continues to impress and it should be fun to track his progress throughout the year and into the future. Klein definitely looks to be a future stud at LB for the Buckeyes.
Next up is the weakside linebacker position and the second player that is on the verge of reaching bad ass status; Ross Homan. Homan was the only returning starter on the linebacking corp, so I was expecting quite a bit from him this year and up to this point I would say that he has exceeded my expectations.
Homan has always had a nose for the ball, so the fact that he is tied for second on the team with 20 tackles is not that surprising. What is surprising is the quickness and playmaking ability that Homan has shown so far this season.
Homan has shown a knack for making plays with an interception and two fumble recoveries through three games, but the biggest surprise from Homan (at least to me) is the speed and quickness he has shown moving sideline to sideline, particularly this past weekend against Toledo and the spread offense that they employed.
[While it is true that Homan got burnt on a crucial third and long play against USC, you show me a linebacker that can cover McKnight one on one and I will show you a #1 overall draft pick.]
If Homan continues to play this well for the entire season he will also be a strong candidate for post season Big Ten accolades and a possible All-American candidate for 2010.
One thing that could hold Homan and Rolle back from the spotlight and national accolades is each other. It will be interesting to see if the pair is given the Laurinaitis/Freeman treatment, with one recieving a majority of the media attention and the other being largely ignored. Another possibility is the Hawk/Carpenter/Schlegel treatment, with the group of linebackers largely recieving accolades as a whole (even though Hawk still received all of the individual awards).
I am getting ahead of myself (as usual) by speculating about post season awards, but the point is that Homan and Rolle are emerging as a helluva linebacking pair and it looks like they are both going to have big years. Awesome.
Backing up Homan on the weakside going into the Illinois game is sophomore #42 Andrew Sweat. Sweat is a highly regarded young prospect and has managed to record four tackles so far this year. He is another young linebacker to keep an eye on going into the future.
Next up is the strong side linebacker position being manned by #38 Austin Spitler. While Homan and Rolle have been great so far, I would have to describe Spitler as a slight disapointment, at least up to this point.
Many expected Spitler to lose the starting position to Etienne Sabino (who is second on the depth chart on the strong side behind Spitler right now, many thought the two would fight it out to start in the middle, funny how that worked out, but anyways…) so the fact that he is still the starter going into week four has probably exceeded some people’s expectations.
I am inclined to give Spitler a pass for his lackluster play thus far, however, as he was obviously still recovering from a calf strain in the Navy game and he may only now be returning to 100%. Still, Spitler’s lack of production so far (9 tackles in three games) is a bit concerning.
I wrote before the year started that I expected Spitler to be a starter for the entire season and that he would pleasantly surprise some people. I still think that Spitler will be the starter for the entire season, especially given the fact that Sabino has failed to make a splash thus far despite his obvious physical talents.
However, if Spitler is going to pleasantly surprise some people like I predicted he will have to step his game up for the Big Ten schedule. I think games against some power Big Ten teams like Wisconsin or Iowa are games where he could really shine with his tough physical play.
So there is my review of the two deep at linebacker going into week four. Other than Rolle staying in the middle instead of moving back outside (I also really thought that Dorian Bell had a shot to make significant contributions this year, which it appears he won’t), I would have to say that things have panned out pretty much as I expected them to.
[that's me patting myself on the back]
I really like how the linebackers have been playing so far, and as Rolle becomes more and more experienced in the middle, the linebackers become more experienced playing together in general, and the defensive line continues to dominate and keep blockers from touching the backers, I expect this group to be really, really good sooner rather than later.
It should be fun to watch.
When compiling a list of the best linebackers ever to play at Ohio State, the list is long. Spielman, Cousineau, Hawk, Laurinaitis, Gradishar, Pepper Johnson, etc etc etc.
While he rarely shows up on the list of all-time best LB, Matt Wilhelm is one of my favorites. And on his next-to-last play of his career, he saved a National Championship for us.
In the Fiesta Bowl in 2003, Miami was facing third down and goal from the Ohio State 1 yard line. The Buckeyes led 31-24 in the second overtime, and the Hurricanes had to score a touchdown or lose the game.
QB Ken Dorsey turned and handed the ball on an off-tackle run to Quadtraine Hill. He was hit at the line of scrimmage by Wilhelm, but kept his legs moving. Hill’s momentum kept him moving forward to the 1-foot line, and Wilhelm used his upper body strength to force the ball carrier backwards. He stayed on top of Hill and rode him to the ground, keeping him just shy of the end zone. Miami would fail on fourth down when LB Cie Grant forced a bad throw from Dorsey into the end zone and the title was ours.
Matt Wilhelm, you are our guest of honor today!
35 days until kickoff!
I grew up with the name Chris Spielman dominating the news. When I was in junior high, he was a running back and a linebacker at Massillon High School, a mere seven miles from my house. He humiliated both offenses and defenses across the state week after week. Guys in this town still have nightmares from when they were 16 year-old kids and would get punished having to try and tackle him on Friday night. They don’t talk about getting tackled by him because the concussion took that memory away.
Dude was even on a Wheaties box before he turned 18.
Then he chose Ohio State. Actually, his father told him to choose Ohio State or “never come home again”. Spielman was apparently considering that school up north.
In 1986 he was all over the field against Michigan, recording 29 tackles in a single game. No, that’s not a misprint. 29 tackles in one game.
So by the time I got to see him up close for the first time, he was a legend.
In 1987, I went up to Michigan Stadium to see the Buckeyes/Wolverines game. Four days earlier, Ohio State had fired head coach Earle Bruce and it was considered a travesty in every part of Ohio except the university president’s office. The players were pissed, and they were fully supporting Bruce.
During pre-game warmups that cold morning, we were right along the end zone wall, screaming for our Bucks. The players (who, in solidarity, had all put on white headbands with the name “Earle” emblazoned upon it in black Sharpie) were fired up and loving the atmosphere of the day. Hundreds of high-fives and hugs being exchanged between players and fans. It was electric.
Except for Spielman.
I have never seen a scarier sight in my life than when #36 came near our corner of the end zone. The look in his eyes was of pure anger and pure hunger. Nobody reached out to wish Spielman luck. They were too afraid of him. He looked as if he would literally plunge a rusty 6-inch shank in your jugular vein if you got in his way.
We were terrified of him and we were on the same freaking team.
And then we watched Michigan’s offense try to use only half of the field, constantly running to the side of the field that didn’t have a guy named Spielman on it. They clearly remembered the attack they had witnessed in 1986 (seriously, 29 tackles!) and tried their best to avoid a repeat.
That day, Spielman and the rest of the Buckeyes gave Bruce his final win at Ohio State, beating Bo Schembechler 23-20. Thanks, Chris!
36 days until kickoff!
Is was just a few short years ago that a trio of linebackers roamed the middle of our defense, and they were vicious. A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, and today’s hero, Bobby Carpenter.
These three were easily the best batch of men to play LB at the same time for Ohio State (although we’re pretty sure that Chris Spielman could have scared the piss out of any two of them at once), but what made them special was the way they bonded together off the field as well.
As a matter of fact, Bobby Carpenter may have won the 2005 Michigan game for the Buckeyes without playing a single down that counts.
Carpenter broke his leg on the first play that Michigan tried from the line of scrimmage…and the play was called back due to a flag. A tearful Carpenter would later return to the sidelines on crutches, unable to play in his final Michigan game of his life.
Midway through the 4th quarter with Ohio State trailing by 9 points, the rally cry around the bench began….the team wanted to win this one for Bobby. Troy Smith, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr, Anthony Gonzalez, and the rest of the offense joined in the call for their defensive ally, and the Buckeyes played like their lives depended on a victory. They marched down the field for a quick TD to cut the deficit to two points, then held firm on defense as Michigan could not hold onto the ball very long.
The offense retook the field with under 4 minutes to play and with Carpenter right there on the edge of the field screaming, and they marched nearly the entire length of the field……without ever seeing a third down play. Antonio Pittman took it in from a yard out for the game winner with 25 seconds left as Ohio State won their 4th game in 5 years against their hated rival.
Carpenter would never play another game in scarlet and gray. But the legend of what he brought to the field lives on.
42 days until kickoff!
P.S. Before any diehards get upset, we were going to highlight Paul Warfield at #42, but very few quality pictures exist of him in a Buckeyes #42 jersey. TONS of Browns and Fins pics, but no OSU. We did not overlook PW.