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.

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Looking at the Linebackers: Week 4

Written September 23rd, 2009 by Jim

And now it is time for the much anticipated return of my look at the various position groups this season.

[crowd cheers loudly]

Thank you.

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.

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.

Bad ass.

Bad ass.

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.

Carrying on the #36 tradition.

Carrying on the #36 tradition.

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.

Ross Homan is angry.

Ross Homan is angry.

[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.

Has seen the field but has not stood out.

Has seen the field but has not stood out.

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.

*pat* *pat*

[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.

Offensive Tackle: Key to the Season

Written August 17th, 2009 by Jim

In my last post, I looked at the linebacker situation at Ohio State. Talking LB’s is one of my favorite topics and I think Ohio State’s linebacker tradition stacks up against any team in the country (I’m looking at you Penn State).

While it is fun to envision our LBs running around laying the smack down on some hapless Big Ten offenses, the position that will have the largest impact on the outcome of the upcoming season is offensive tackle.

Unfortunately for Buckeye fans, play along the offensive line has been lackluster for several years now, and in particular the play at the tackle positions has been a huge liability. Whenever the Buckeyes played against a top defense with highly regarded ends (Florida, LSU) chaos in the OSU backfield was sure to ensue.

I would even go so far as to say that less than stellar play at tackle has been the #1 cause of Ohio State’s recent big game woes and was the #1 contributor to the premature end of the Todd Boeckman era at quarterback. Once Beanie went down, teams could tee off with the pass rush and our tackles were helpless to stop them. The results of this unfortunate situation was less than ideal for poor Todd Boeckman,who’s inability to get rid of the ball quickly didn’t help matters.

Now it is time to turn the page as both tackles from a year ago have moved on. LT Alex Boone has moved on to the west coast (undrafted free agent to San Fran) and  RT Bryant Browning has made a slightly shorter move west to RG. While it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Browning will find his way back to tackle, I think it is safe to say that he will spend the rest of his time in Columbus comfortably away from open space on the inside.

That means that both tackle positions need to be filled sometime before the start of the season. How well the new players step in and perform at tackle will go a long way towards helping or hindering the development of a guy named Pyror (maybe you’ve heard of him?). While Pryor is clearly more mobile than Boeckman could ever dream of being, running for his life the entire season is a less than ideal situation for both Pryor and the team, which means that improvement at tackle despite the turnover is a must.

While I have no doubt that the Buckeyes can win a majority of the games they play this year based entirely on Pryor’s ability to scramble, for Ohio State to finally get over its funk and win its biggest games (see USC, Penn State), Pryor needs to be able to sit in the pocket and pass the ball. Not only will this keep opposing defenses from committing everything they have to stopping the run, it will also make Pryor’s ability to scramble even more lethal when other teams drop back to defend the pass and see a 6’6″ blur of scarlet and gray fly past them.

So, who is going to step in to the most important position for improvement on offense and hold the fate of the upcoming season in their hands? Below I will look at the two main candidates competing to play at each tackle position and then briefly go over some dark horse candidates.

LT

Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line and behind the quarterback is probably the most important position on the entire offense. The left tackle protects the QBs blind side, and when they don’t do a good job, bad things happen.

[insert picture of Boeckman getting sacked that none of us really wants to look at]

Alex Boone manned the LT position for the last four years at Ohio State (’05-’08, 36 starts), and while his off the field issues prevented him from ever reaching his potential (I contend that he was no better as a senior than he was as a true freshman), he at least brought consistency to the position and even earned First Team All Big Ten honors last year. Despite his status as a four year starter and All-Big Ten tackle, Boone was also consistent in getting man handled in bowl games against the SEC. For proof of my hypothesis that tackle play was one of the largest contributors to our big game letdowns, look at the results of bowl games in which Boone played well (Notre Dame, Texas) compared to the ones in which he got burned (Florida, LSU).

Fast forward to this year. It has been a two horse race to see who will replace Boone at left tackle, Mike Adams (#75) and Andy Miller (#55) have been battling each other since Spring ball to earn the spot, and they will continue to battle into fall camp (hopefully a leader emerges before too long).

The two candidates side by side.

The two candidates side by side.

I am looking for whoever emerges to bring increased athleticism and focus to the position and to compete at a high level against even the best DE’s in the country.

We’ll start by looking at Miller, who could be considered the underdog in the competition to start. He came to Ohio State as a tight end in 2006 and has bulked up enough to be moved to tackle. He is currently a redshirt Junior and is listed at 6’6″ and 280 pounds. Miller has played sparingly in his career thus far, but he did play significant minutes at guard last year in the USC game when starter Steve Rehring went down with an injury.

Miller looks ready to go.

While it is entirely possible that Miller is capable of handling the starting spot at left tackle, I almost feel bad for really hoping that he doesn’t win the job. Miller is the type of hard working team player that all fans love to root for, but if he ends up starting, that probably means that Adams is failing to live up to his massive potential, and that is not a good thing for Ohio State.

So that brings us to Mike Adams, who was compared favorably to Orlando Pace coming out of High School (see what I mean about massive potential?). At 6’8″ and around 300 lbs. Adams has prototypical size for a tackle and has been the heir apparent at LT since he committed to Ohio State.

Newsflash: Mike Adams is big.

Newsflash: Mike Adams is big.

The fact that he was unable to separate himself  from Miller during spring practice may be cause for concern. Throughout the spring there were reports floating around that Adam’s didn’t play with the type of tenacity that you typically like to see from your offensive lineman, and that is what was holding him back.

The explanation for his lack of separation from Miller may have been due more to physical limitations rather than psychological ones, however. It is a very real possibility that Adams was rusty during the spring after shoulder and foot injuries limited the amount of playing and practice time that Adams was able to get his freshman year (he only played in four games). Adam’s himself seems to subscribe to this belief, saying (when speaking of his injuries last year and the time he lost):

“That really set me back,” Adams said. “I feel like that was a time where I really could’ve come into myself.”

Now it appears that Adams is back 100% and he is saying all the right things.

When asked how badly he “wanted it” at media day, he had this to say:

I wish I could say, but it might not be appropriate for the newspapers.

Sounds good to me.

Additionally, Adams has apparently been hitting the gym as well.

Adam’s said he’s playing at about 300 pounds, losing 40 pounds from a year ago and then putting a little weight back on in a healthier way.

“I feel faster,” Adams said. “I can move better all around. It was something I decided to do for me, just try to get my body ready and help my chances of playing more this year.”

Oh, and about that tenacity thing, Adams has been listening to the criticism and has this to say:

“One thing that makes you more aggressive is knowing what you’re doing,” Adams said. “I definitely know the plays better, and that allows me to play better and play harder.”

Once again, check and check next to the things I would like to hear Mike Adams say.

So, it seems like Adams is doing and saying all of the right things this offseason, now we just have to wait and see if it translates on the field. In the end (especially given all of the quotes I just quoted) I expect Adams to win the starting job and to perform well. How well Adams handles the pass rush of elite teams will go a long way in determining what type of year is in store for the Buckeyes, so uh, no pressure or anything.

RT

Ah, right tackle. Last year Ohio State had to replace four year starter (’04-’07) Kirk Barton, and the man chosen for the task was redshirt sophomore Bryant Browning. Browning didn’t perform terribly throughout the season (he started all 13 games) but he did not have his best games against elite pass rushers to put it mildly.

[insert picture of Browning in the Penn State game that none of us really want to look at]

So it is safe to say that it is back to the drawing board at RT going into 2009. Like LT, there appears to be two main contenders to start; 5th year Senior Jim Cordle (#64) and true Sophomore J.B. Shugarts (#76).

The two candidates.

The two candidates.

Cordle is a versatile lineman who has 26 career starts. He started the entire 2007 season at center and began ’08 at center before moving over to LG for the final 10 games of the season following the injury to Rehring at USC .  While Cordle was at LG, freshman Michael Brewster took over at center and will continue to play there this season, leaving Cordle without a position and a candidate for the RT spot. The coaches (and fans) are hoping that Cordle’s quickness and superior knowledge of the game will allow him to play well on the edge despite the fact that he is a bit undersized for tackle at 6’4″ 300 lbs. and has little experience in space.

Football, being the unpredictable sport that it is, decided to throw a little kink into the competition at RT when Justin Boren injured his knee on Friday and will have to sit out at least a week. This means that Cordle may move back to LG (where, you’ll remember, he spent most of the season last year) to take Boren’s place while he recovers. If this move occurs, the door will be open for the other candidate at RT, J.B. Shugarts.

Is Shugarts getting ready to move in to the starting RT spot?

Is Shugarts getting ready to move in to the starting RT spot?

Like Adams, Shugarts was highly regarded coming out of high school (he’s from Texas), was slotted to play RT from the moment he arrived on campus, and was unable to play in six games last year due to a shoulder injury which also kept him out of spring ball after off season surgery. This lost time has prevented Shugarts from stepping into the RT spot that everyone assumed would be his.

While Cordle has intelligence and experience, Shugarts brings raw ability and size (6’8″ 300 lbs.) and is a natural tackle where Cordle is a bit out of position. Once again, I am rooting for the young guy (Shugarts) to win out the RT competition, not because I dislike Cordle, but because I think if Shugarts wins out the competition that gives the offensive line the best opportunity for improvement (hopefully to the point of dominance). While I think Cordle has the ability to be serviceable at tackle, Shugarts has the ability to dominate and that is what I would like to see happen.

My ideal situation at the start of the year would be to have Mike Adams at LT and J.B. Shugarts at RT, but only if they earn their spots by living up to their massive potential.

The Chosen Ones

The Chosen (by me) Ones

Beyond the players I listed above, there are a few more candidates for the tackle spots, but if any of them start it would be a pretty big surprise.

Jack Mewhort (#74).

Jack Mewhort is not messing around

Jack Mewhort is not messing around.

Mewhort is a true freshman (listed at 6’7″ 290 lbs.) who enrolled early for Spring ball which could give him the extra experience he needs to crack the starting lineup at one of the tackle spots.

Marcus Hall (#79)

Marcus Hall is also big

Marcus Hall is also big.

Hall is the highest rated incoming freshman along the offensive line (6’5″ 300 lbs.). He could see playing time at tackle or at guard. I would imagine that he needs to refine his footwork in order to handle elite pass rushers on the edge, so I predict that if he makes contributions this year it will be at guard. Then again, I am no expert, and I wouldn’t really be surprised if he got playing time at tackle either.

Regardless of whether or not Hall and Mewhort start or even get significant playing time this year, they are definitely guys to keep an eye on going into the future.

Another player that will probably be in the two deep at tackle is Josh Kerr (#73). Kerr is a redshirt Junior (listed at 6’4″ 285 lbs.) who has been a perennial backup and has been unable to establish much of a reputation due to injury plagued seasons in each of the past two years. He is probably the longest shot to crack the starting lineup, but I look for him to provide quality depth and experience at both tackle positions if needed.

So that’s it for my look at the tackles. All in all I think we are in pretty good shape. If Adams and Shugarts can live up to their billing than we are probably in better than pretty good shape. The real test will come on September 12th, after that game we will really know how well our play at tackle has come since last year.

Looking at the Linebackers

Written August 14th, 2009 by Jim

Hello all, my name is Jim and I love the Buckeyes.

First of all, I’d like to thank Jeff for giving me this opportunity to share my love of the Buckeyes in a semi-professional manner with all of you. I hope that you enjoy what I have to say.

Very briefly, I was born and raised in Ohio (minus a four year stint in St. Louis when I was too young to really remember anything or be tainted by anything non-Ohio) and am a recent graduate from The Ohio State University (Spring of ’08). I am currently in my second year of graduate studies at OSU (mostly for two more years of student tickets) and should graduate with a masters degree in the spring.

And now that thank yous and introductions are out of the way, I’d like to jump right in to one of my favorite topics regarding the Buckeyes (and football in general); linebackers.

I realize that doing a position breakdown isn’t exactly the most original idea out there, but I’d like to think I can add some original flair to the process, and if you’re like me, you can’t get enough reading material about the Buckeyes during this time of year anyways, even if it is basically the same information being rehashed over and over. Additionally, due to the large turnover at linebacker this year (see directly below) it is one of the most interesting positions to look at heading into the season.

I suppose the natural place to begin when talking about the 2009 linebackers is to quickly rehash what Ohio State has lost from the 2008 team, namely, James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.

Those names should be familiar ones to Buckeyes fans and foes alike, as the pair combined to play in 103 games, make 643 tackles, and earn numerous accolades and awards over the course of their careers.

Laurinaitis in particular enjoyed many honors during his time in the scarlet and gray, including becoming only the eighth three time all-american and only the seventh two-time captain in the illustrious history of Buckeye football. He is also (currently, damn you Tebow!!) the only player in the history of college football to earn a major national award in three different seasons (’06 Nagurski, ’07 Butkus, ’08 Lott).

It’s not that I think any of you don’t already know these things, I just like saying (or typing I suppose) them out loud. James Laurinaitis as an individual has earned more accolades than many teams earn in multiple decades.

But I digress, last year is long gone and it is time to look ahead to the 2009 season.

Few schools have been able to reload talent like Ohio State has over the past several years, and I happen to think that Ohio State will reload quite nicely at linebacker in 2009. While this year’s group of linebackers may lack a true star like Laurinaitis, what they lack in star power will be made up for with amazing depth, increased athleticism and speed, and the enthusiasm of players who have been waiting patiently in the wings until the day when it is their time to strap up.

Here are the players who will be fighting for playing time at linebacker this year.

#51 – Ross Homan

Homan is the only returning starter this year and is unquestionably the most experienced linebacker on the roster. A redshirt junior checking in at 6’0” 230 lbs., as a true freshman in 2006, Homan played in all 13 games and recorded 28 tackles (ninth most on the team) as a backup. Unfortunately, Homan’s career took a brief hiatus during the 2007 season when he was forced to take a medical redshirt after being sidelined with a turf toe injury. Ross came back strong in 2008, recording 67 tackles (fourth best on the team) and 6 tackles for loss as the starter at the will (weakside) linebacker position alongside Laurinaitis and Freeman.

Going into 2009, Homan appears to have the will linebacker position on lockdown once again and he will bring leadership and experience to the linebacking corp. Homan plays with old school tenacity and a nose for the ball and I look for him to emerge as one of the best defenders on the team.

#38 Austin Spitler

Unless you really like special teams, many of you may not be familiar with Austin Spitler. That is because he has been the backup for Laurinaitis for three straight seasons (2006,2007, 2008). Now, as a 5th year senior, it is Spitler’s time to step into the starting lineup.

Despite being primarily a backup over the past several years, Spitler has provided some memorable moments (and some costly penalties) during his time on special teams. Most notable amongst his contributions thus far is this little gem of a hit at the 2:10 mark in the video below that no doubt contributed to one of Michigan’s brightest young stars high tailing it back to Texas.

Spitler certainly looks the part of an Ohio State linebacker at 6’3” 234 (at least) lbs, and he clearly has the size and strength to stuff the run and make some big hits. According to reports from practice, Spitler has been moved from the middle spot to the strong side position opposite Homan in three linebacker sets. Additionally, while some have questioned his ability to cover in space, it has been Homan and Spitler that have been taking a majority of the starting reps in the nickel package (two linebackers, five DB’s) thus far at practice.

While I don’t expect Spitler to gain much attention or awards nationally this year, I do expect him to be a starter throughout the year and for many Buckeye fans to be pleasantly surprised by his play.

I expect Homan and Spitler to be firmly entrenched as starters throughout the year, however, beyond these two, it gets a little hazy as to who will step up and earn playing time. Fortunately for Buckeye fans, there are many strong candidates vying for the third linebacker position.

*As a little side note here, I expect the Buckeyes to play a lot of downs this year in the nickel defense against any team that uses some type of spread offense (Purdue, Northwestern, Michigan, ect.). In this formation, Jermale Hines will most likely come in as a Star back, which is sort of like a mix between a safety and a linebacker. This means that the linebackers below may not get as many chances to play against certain teams, and against those teams or during certain situations (passing) Jermale Hines will be the quasi third linebacker. Anyways, back to the regularly scheduled program…

Sadly, Tyler Moeller, one of the players looking to fill the third linebacker spot, has been lost for the season to a non football related injury (statement from his family regarding the situation as seen in a previous post on this site). Tyler looked great in the spring and may have even been penciled in as the third starter heading into fall practice, so it is a real shame to see him lose his opportunity to start this year. Our best wishes go out to Tyler and his family. I hope that his recovery is swift and I am really looking forward to seeing him on the field again in the future.

What is a very unfortunate situation for Tyler will allow some other linebackers to step forward. The player that appears to benefit the most from the spot vacated by Moeller is Brian Rolle.

#36 – Brian Rolle

Rolle is a true Junior and like Spitler, has contributed primarily on special teams thus far in his career. At 5’11” 221 lbs, Rolle may seem a bit undersized for a linebacker, but what he lacks in size he more than makes up for with speed and the ability to hit like a ton of bricks.

So far during camp (once again it has been less than a week, so take this with a grain of salt), Rolle has been getting first team reps as the middle linebacker in three linebacker sets with Homan and Spitler on the outside. This is somewhat of a surprising move, as many thought that Spitler was the heir apparent in the middle.

I envision Rolle in the middle as an experimental move by the coaches to try and tap into a defensive Jacquizz Rodgers type of situation. If you are unfamiliar with Rodgers, he is the Oregon State running back who ripped through the USC defense last year (see below video) leading his team to the upset win despite the fact that he is barely over 5’6” tall.

I believe the thinking of the coaches is that Rolle’s short stature may allow him to slip by offensive lineman undetected Rodgers style. However, his stature may also lead to some visibility and play recognition problems if he gets lost in the jumble of offensive and defensive lineman. Like I said, Rolle in the middle seems experimental in nature to me, and I would not be surprised if he ended up back on the outside. Regardless of where at, you can look for Rolle to get significant playing time in three linebacker sets throughout the year and I look for him to be a fan favorite due to his tenacity and knack for the big hit. (Special note, can a linebacker at OSU wear #36 and not be awesome? I submit that they cannot.)

#6 – Etienne Sabino

Note: Sabino will be wearing #6 this year

Another player that will be competing for playing time is Etienne Sabino, a true sophomore. Sabino spent most of his freshman year in 2008 on special teams, during which time he was able to record six tackles and returned a blocked punt 20 yards for a touchdown.

Sabino was one of the top rated linebackers in the country coming out of high school in 2008, and he has quite possibly the highest ceiling and the most athletic ability of all the linebackers on Ohio State’s roster. However, there were some reports in the spring that Sabino was having difficulty picking up schemes and the mental aspect of the game may be holding him back somewhat.

At 6’3” and 232 lbs, Sabino has been slotted for middle linebacker since he arrived on campus. The fact that Rolle is apparently being tried out in the middle ahead of Sabino may lend credence to the stories about Sabino having difficulty picking up mental aspects of the game. I expect Sabino to be a star at linebacker for the Buckeyes sooner rather than later, and he will most likely get playing time this year, however, it may be another year before Sabino is really able to shine.

#42 – Andrew Sweat

Another true sophomore looking to contribute is Andrew Sweat. Like Sabino, Sweat spent most of his freshman year during 2008 on special teams, recording five tackles, including two tackles in the Fiesta Bowl. Sweat probably isn’t as physically gifted as Sabino, but at 6’2” 220 lbs he is another old school linebacker with a nose for the ball similar to Homan. Once again, I expect Sweat to be a solid player for the Buckeyes and to provide some high quality depth this year, but his time to shine may not be for another year or two.

In addition to the players mentioned above, who I expect to be the main contributors at linebacker this year, there are also three highly touted true freshman looking to make an immediate impact on the rotation. They are: Storm Klein (#32), Dorian Bell (#11), and Jordan Whiting (#39).

First up is Klein, who participated in spring ball with the Buckeyes. Klein’s early enrollment in the spring has clearly helped him gain the attention of the coaches as he has been running with the 2nd team so far during fall camp.

At 6’3” 220 lbs. Klein compares favorably to players like Homan and Sweat, and given that he was a standout running back in high school, he clearly does not lack for athleticism.

At most other schools in the Big Ten (with the exception of Penn State) I would expect Klein (along with all of the other players listed here) to challenge for starting time immediately, however, at Ohio State, he will most likely provide more high quality depth and at the very least make significant contributions on special teams.

Next up is Dorian Bell. Bell undoubtedly has the most hype of all of the incoming freshman linebackers, and by looking at his high school highlights (video below, music probably nsfw), it is clear why. Bell’s athleticism and natural ability may even surpass that of Sabino, however, missing spring ball has seemingly put him behind Klein on the depth chart, at least temporarily.

Bell does not lack confidence, as he has stated that he expects to start as a true freshman, and at 6’0” 230 lbs he moves like a running backs and does some serious damage when he gets to the ball carrier.

Like Klein, I expect Bell to play special teams and to challenge for playing time immediately, but he may have to wait a year to learn the system and schemes before he moves into a starting spot, then again, given his obvious abilities, he may not have to.

Finally, there is Jordan Whiting.

Probably the least hyped of the incoming freshman. Whiting certainly passes the looks test and appears physically ready for college ball (check out the photo of fall camp check in above, he is listed at 6’0″ 230 lbs). Like the other freshman, however, he might end up being a casualty of the depth chart and relegated to special teams duty for the duration of his freshman campaign (with those three, that is some serious talent on special teams).

That about wraps up this summary. It will be interesting to track who steps up and grabs the third starting spot during camp in the upcoming weeks. The competition should be intense to say the least. No matter who earns the starting spots, the depth is top notch and I expect quite a few guys to be rotated into games throughout the year.

Given the athleticism and depth of this group of linebackers, combined with (hopefully) improved play from the defensive tackles and (hopefully) dominating play from the defensive ends, I don’t expect there to be a drop off in the quality of linebacker play for the Buckeyes despite the losses of Laurinaitis and Freeman.

What do you think?

*The photos in this post are from theozone.net and Josh Winslow