Breaking Down Urban’s Depth Chart: Outside Linebacker
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — And then there were three.
As if the linebacker position wasn’t thin enough at Ohio State, Storm Klein’s recent removal from Urban Meyer’s roster leaves the Buckeyes with just three scholarship linebackers who have played a down of meaningful football.
Really, it’s only two.
Sophomore Curtis Grant is already a household name in Columbus, but he really hasn’t played a meaningful snap on defense. That leaves sophomore Ryan Shazier and senior Etienne Sabino as the two guys with experience in this group.
With that position in the foreground, we decided to break down the outside linebacker position heading into fall camp.
Pre-spring pecking order: Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino starting with little depth behind them.
Photo by Dan Harker
It’s difficult to figure out exactly how Ohio State put itself in a position to be so thin at the linebacker spot—an area that has historically been a major strength for the Buckeyes.
Early departures from all four linebackers in the class of 2009 helps to explain why the Buckeyes were in such bad shape at the position when Urban Meyer took over in November.
The Buckeyes lost Dorian Bell and Jonathan Newsome—two guys who were expected to compete for starting jobs—before last season. Both players transferred amidst off-the-field issues. Then Jordan Whiting, a backup inside linebacker, opted to transfer back home to Louisville before the start of spring ball.
Post-spring depth chart: Shazier and Sabino starting with little depth behind them.
The Buckeyes were thin across the board at linebacker heading into spring ball, but especially on the outside. With Grant, Storm Klein and Connor Crowell slated to play inside, freshman Luke Roberts was moved outside to backup Shazier at the Will linebacker spot.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Both Roberts and Josh Perry—two early enrollees from the class of 2012—found themselves on the second team defense this spring. Perry split time with walk-on Steward Smith—a former Leo defensive end—before injuries slowed him down towards the end of spring practice.
The good news, however, was that Shazier and Sabino were mostly healthy for the duration of spring practice.
Who is missing?: The best news of all for this group was the fact Meyer landed a talented group of outside linebackers in the class of 2012.
When he took the job in November, Camren Williams, David Perkins and Jamal Marcus were all committed elsewhere. Williams was headed to Penn State, Perkins was going to stay home and play for Notre Dame and Marcus was verbally committed to East Carolina University.
All three of them will be in scarlet jerseys this fall, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility they could compete for playing time. The Buckeyes also added a preferred walkon from Cincinnati LaSalle named Joe Burger who could be in the mix this fall. His older brother, Bobby, walked on at Notre Dame as a tight end in 2008 and eventually earned a scholarship from the Irish.
Susceptible to Change or Set in Stone: Set in stone, we think.
Meyer was absolutely in love with the film he saw of Jamal Marcus, a hybrid end/linebacker who could play the Sam linebacker spot, which is currently occupied by Sabino.
It seems unlikely Marcus, or either of the other two guys, could push Sabino for his starting spot during fall camp, but we also know the new staff wants to get more speed on the field defensively.
Ultimately, they would like to play less nickel defense—with a fifth defensive back—but they need quickness at the outside linebacker spot in order to stay in base defense against a spread offense like the ones at Michigan or Illinois.
Overall prognosis: This group is a lot deeper heading into the start of fall camp than it was coming out of spring ball. Roberts is a guy who could move inside to play Mike linebacker now that Klein is gone, but he could also stay outside if they like him there.
The addition of Williams, Marcus and Perkins—along with a healthy Josh Perry—gives Luke Fickell options at the outside linebacker spot.
The one position he doesn’t have to worry about at all is the starting Will linebacker spot. Shazier has that on lockdown and he could be looking at a breakout sophomore season for the Buckeyes this fall.
The position is perfectly suited for guys who fly around and make plays all over the field.
Urban's take: “The guy that when you flip him on tape, and not knowing anything else, without reading rankings or without listening to everybody else's opinions, the guy that is really impressive to me is Jamal Marcus. I invite you at some point to watch that highlight video. It borders on ridiculous as far as his ability level.”
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: QB
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: RB
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: FB
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: WR
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: TE
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: OT
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: OL
Breaking Down the Depth Chart: MLB
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