Everything seems to set up nicely for Ohio State in 2013. The schedule could be easier than this season, the offense has nine projected starters returning and Braxton Miller is still calling the shots for the Buckeyes.
Could a 24-0 start to Urban Meyer’s Ohio State career be in the making? Well, there certainly is a decent chance for that to happen. However, in order for the Buckeyes to finish 2013 unscathed, the linebacker unit needs to step up and lead the defense.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, as you remember, there were question marks all over the linebacker unit. Ryan Shazier was only a sophomore. Would Etienne Sabino step up as a senior, and who would fill the third linebacker spot?
The unit struggled early in the season, as the Buckeyes defense didn’t perform up to expectations. When Zach Boren was moved to the defensive side of the ball, it seemed to drastically improve the defense as a whole.
Looking ahead to 2013, the Buckeyes lose Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino. So, the same questions surround the Buckeyes defense again. Who will step up at linebacker for Ohio State?
After a slow start to 2012, Ryan Shazier cemented himself as the leader of the linebacker unit in 2013. Other than Shazier, there isn’t much experience on the roster.
Ohio State seemed to trust Josh Perry in 2012, as he saw action in many games as a true freshman. Going into spring ball, you would have to think Perry has a starting position, but it’s up to him to keep it. Coaches feel good about Perry, as was evident in 2012.
Now, who fills the third and final spot at linebacker? Curtis Grant, the No. 1 outside linebacker in the nation in the class of 2011, according to Scout.com, hasn’t quite lived up to expectations early in his career. Again, he is entering his junior season, so he still has time, but most around Buckeye Nation hope the light can go on for Grant. At 6’3" and 235 pounds, he has all the tools, but he just needs to get better between the ears.
Other players expected to challenge for a position are Jamal Marcus, Camren Williams and David Perkins. All three will be sophomores in 2013. Marcus and Perkins both saw substantial time on special teams this past season.
The knock on Williams is his size at the moment. His game is where it should be, but he will need to beef up in the offseason. I really like Jamal Marcus, as he seems to wreck everything in sight. Coach Urban Meyer had a quote about Marcus at the beginning of the 2012 season, “There's a kid named Jamal Marcus, he doesn't know which way up is right now, but he knows from Point A to Point B and he'll run over anything in his way to get to Point B.”
With Marcus being a freshman last season, mental mistakes were expected. Now with 2013 on the horizon, there’s no doubt in my mind that Jamal Marcus will find his way onto the field this season, whether it be at linebacker or putting his hand on the ground to rush the passer.
As we look beyond current players, there’s another potential player who has a chance to see playing time right away. Mike Mitchell, who is currently a senior in high school, is highly sought-after by just about every program in America. Mike has not committed to a school yet, but he lists the Buckeyes in his top three. If Urban Meyer were to land Mitchell, it would certainly create a buzz, as Mitchell is arguably the most athletic player in the class of 2013. That’s saying a lot, considering he’s a linebacker prospect.
I repeat: The linebacker unit needs to step up in 2013 if the Buckeyes want a championship-caliber defense. When spring ball kicks off, pretty much every linebacker on the team will be auditioning for a spot.
Luke Fickell has coached many great Buckeyes linebackers through the years, and I see him developing a few more this coming spring. Ohio State’s track record speaks for itself when it comes to linebackers. I’m confident that a few players emerge as Ohio State seeks out another undefeated season.