Linebacker is a position that many Ohio State football fans will worry about entering 2014, having lost an incredible talent in Ryan Shazier to the first round of the NFL draft. Shazier racked up over 100 tackles last season, which is an incredible milestone for any college football player.
This season, some adjustments will be made at the linebacker position to account for the loss of such an important player. In addition, some young guys will be relied on early and often to make a big impact for this defense. The Buckeyes also lose five star recruit Mike Mitchell, who redshirted last season and has decided to transfer from Ohio State. With two big losses at an already weak position, the Buckeyes will need to work hard to fill the voids.
Shazier played the weak side linebacker position for the Buckeyes last season. This year, Josh Perry will shift over from the strong side to fill this void. Curtis Grant will continue to start at middle linebacker for the Buckeyes for his senior season. This leaves a gap to be filled at strong side linebacker, and Ohio State has a few candidates for the job. Curtis Grant is the Buckeyes’ only senior at linebacker, and there are two freshman who look like they can make an immediate impact, so regardless of who wins the starting job, youth will be a factor at linebacker this season. In fact, those two freshman seem to be leading the way for the starting job at the strong side.
Darron Lee is a freshman from New Albany, Ohio. He has impressed coaches with his athletic abilities and work ethic. Lee was a three star recruit ranked as the number 44 athlete of last year’s class. He was not expected to make a splash right away, but he has won coaches and teammates over, and looks to have a pretty good hold on the starting job.
Raekwon McMillan is the other freshman linebacker who will undoubtedly make an impact this season. McMillan was a five star recruit from Georgia. He was ranked the number 1 inside linebacker of the class. He has immediate impact written all over him. He has the size and athleticism of a future NFL linebacker. He may not win the starting job, but he will see the field a lot this season.
Other than these four players, the Buckeyes have little experience or promise at the linebacker position. In the past, the Buckeyes have not rotated linebackers often, allowing the starters to get the bulk of the playing time, but with Larry Johnson coming in as the new defensive line coach, the Buckeyes may adopt more of a rotation even at the linebacker position, which will call on other inexperienced Buckeyes, such as Camren Williams and Trey Johnson, to step up and make an impact.
Linebacker Depth Chart -
WLB Josh Perry: 6-4, 250 pounds, Junior, Lewis Center, OH
MLB Curtis Grant: 6-3, 240 pounds, Senior, Richmond, VA
SLB Darron Lee: 6-1, 225 pounds, Freshman, New Albany, OH
Backup WLB Trey Johnson: 6-1, 225 pounds, Sophomore, Lawrenceville, GA
Backup MLB Raekwon McMillan: 6-2, 240 pounds, Freshman, Hinesville, GA
Backup SLB Camren Williams: 6-1, 228 pounds, Junior, West Roxbury, MA
My Prediction: Although this linebacking group lacks experience, it has great athleticism and the coaching needed to adapt quickly. I do not believe that linebacker will be a strong point for the Buckeyes this season, but I believe that these linebackers will hold up well enough for this defense to thrive in the Big Ten.
Read more positional previews here