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.