Lessons from the Buckeyes

Written June 3rd, 2011 by Joe Dexter


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I think it’s safe to say that football fans across the country have never seen anything like this. When everything hit the fan on Monday, and Jim Tressel had turned in his resignation papers, a nation came together.

We mourned. We wanted to know why. Some of us might have even began doubting the characteristics we’ve grown to love from our former head coach. Others were cursing the Ohio State administration for allowing the Senator to fall on the sword.

All in all though, fans, former and current players, as well as fellow coaches around the country displayed something that may have never been witnessed in college or professional sports.

A garnering of how Jim Tressel affected many people, not only on the football field, but in life.

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We are unveiling a new feature at the BBC today.

In order to help us get through the long summer months, we will be starting a countdown of the top 25 Buckeyes of the decade (2000-2009).

The staff submitted their ballots and the votes have been tallied. We will unveil a new Buckeye in the countdown once a week and as the season approaches the frequency may increase (I haven’t done the exact math to figure out how this is going to work out).

We will only be covering football players for this countdown, even though Ohio State has had some fine basketball players over the last decade as well, sorry Evan Turner.

One thing to note is that we didn’t really define what it means to be in the “Top 25 Buckeyes of the Decade.”

Do you measure on the field accomplishments? wins and losses? statistics? post season accolades? who you’d want most on this year’s team?

In the end, it is a mix of all of the above and then some, which means that different people will have different opinions about this list. We tried to eliminate some of the individual biases by polling all five writers here at the BBC, and I have to say I am happy with the results. However, by no means is this list definitive, so feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

And with that, here are the guys that didn’t quite make the cut for the top 25, but did receive votes, making them worthy of an honorable mention. Read More

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.

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