Shazier Expected to be More Involved
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Ohio State’s defense took the field against Colorado last Saturday they did so with exactly two players who were in the starting lineup against Arkansas back in January.
With Nathan Williams sidelined by injury and Orhian Johnson replaced by Christian Bryant in the secondary, the Buckeyes have been forced to break in nine new players on the defense this fall.
Some of those guys—Bryant, Tyler Moeller and C.J. Barnett—are guys who have started games in the past, but there is no question that this Ohio State defense is as inexperienced as any Jim Heacock has had since he took over as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2005.
“The thing we’re really trying to get is some young guys not to be young anymore,” said Heacock, who has become known as one of the finest defensive minds in the country.
“We have to continue to develop some depth up front and at the linebacker spot. It’s a work in progress. I think we have made progress. I feel like we’re getting better and better, but I think we would all agree that we have to continue to improve as the season goes along.”
Ohio State’s latest depth chart for the Michigan State game features 12 freshmen or sophomores in the two-deep on defense, including six in the starting lineup to begin Big Ten play.
Photo by Jim Davidson
One of those freshmen in the two-deep is linebacker Ryan Shazier.
“Ryan has done a great job,” coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday.
“Ryan I think played 27, 28 snaps last week in the game, in situations when the game was obviously still early. … He’s done a great job special teams-wise. He’s going to be a very, very good football player.”
He’s already starting to look like one. When the game was on the line late in the fourth quarter against Toledo, the Buckeyes asked Shazier to step in and rush the passer. This past week they asked the true freshman to play 35 plays on defense in a 37-17 win over Colorado.
“Shazier was going in there and was starting to act like he was comfortable with what he’s doing,” Heacock said.
“He’s a good athlete, good football player.”
Now they are asking him to take an even bigger step as a part of the solution to Ohio State’s depth issues at linebacker.
“We need him. He’s one of the four guys in the (linebacker) rotation,” Fickell said.
“He’s got a knack for the ball. He can run. We can get some special things out of him”
That part was easy to see from the time Shazier first hit the practice field with the Buckeyes back in April as an early-enrollee from Plantation, Fla. In fact, he was committed to play for the Florida Gators before Urban Meyer announced he was stepping down for personal reasons.
Shazier decided to follow high school teammate Jeremy Cash to Columbus, where he has quickly blossomed into one of the brightest young players on the team.
“I think he's going to be awesome,” said senior linebacker Andrew Sweat.
Even 5-star guys like Etienne Sabino and Dorian Bell have had to wait their turn behind players like James Laurinaitis, Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, but the coaches have had to adjust their thinking with Shazier.
“Sometimes it’s just a natural instinct,” said Fickell, who coached the linebackers at Ohio State from 2005-10 before accepting the head coaching job in May.
“They’re not going to know everything. It’s not going to be about being perfect. The guys who played there before them weren’t perfect. Now they made a lot of plays, but I just think (it takes) that natural instinct to not be worried about being perfect.”
The Buckeyes don’t have to worry about that with Shazier, who is still learning the linebacker position. In high school, he was a pass-rusher who played almost exclusively with his hand down—setting a school record with 35.5 sacks in his career at Plantation High School.
“He’s a great young player; he’s raw,” said senior linebacker Nate Oliver.
“He played defensive end in high school, but he wants to learn a lot; that’s one good thing about him, he’s young but he also wants to learn. And he soaks stuff up like a sponge.”
Like most good young linebackers at Ohio State, Shazier has already made a name for himself as one of the most fierce “war daddies” on the kick coverage team.
“As far as special teams have been going, he’s been doing a great job,” said Oliver, one of the team’s mainstays on kickoff coverage.
“He’s going out there every day working hard. He’s going out flying around. He’s got a bright future here at Ohio State.”
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