On March 10th, Ohio State began spring practice and will have fifteen spring football practices before the conclusion of spring practice on April 18th in Ohio Stadium. Over the next few weeks, I will rank the top ten questions facing Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff as the Buckeyes retake the football field after concluding the 2014 season as the national champions.
These articles will be submitted from areas of lowest concern to highest concern. While Ohio State returns the overwhelming majority of its 2014 team, and welcomes in a highly-touted recruiting class, it will be important for Coach Meyer to convey to his team that complacency within the player ranks could derail any hopes of the Buckeyes repeating as national champions in 2015.
Key Players/Contributors Lost: Curtis Grant (final year of eligibility), Trey Johnson (injury), Devan Bogard (injury)
Key Players/Contributors Returning: Darron Lee (Redshirt Sophomore), Raekwon McMillan (Sophomore), Joshua Perry (Senior), Camren Williams (Senior), Dante Booker (Sophomore), Christopher Worley (Redshirt Sophomore), Kyle Berger (Redshirt Freshman), Nick Conner (Freshman)
Similar to what I wrote about with regards to the running backs and H-Back positions for Ohio State, it seems challenging to call this area of the football team a concern. Darron Lee emerged as one of the most dynamic linebackers in the country, with timely plays against Navy, Maryland, Alabama, and Oregon, among others. Lee has established himself as “exhibit A” of not overemphasizing recruiting rankings, as Lee was a three-star recruit who earned his scholarship with tenacity and determination at Ohio State’s summer recruiting camp. Raekwon McMillan played well and often at the middle linebacker spot, alongside former Buckeye teammate Curtis Grant. McMillan was considered one of the crown jewels of the 2014 recruiting class, and played up to his billing. Lastly, rising senior Joshua Perry has quietly and consistently developed into a steadying presence on the Ohio State defense over his previous three seasons; Perry should emerge as an Ohio State captain for the 2015 season.
Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer stated on National Signing Day 2015 that he is “really excited about” the linebacker position, adding, ” I think that Luke Fickell has really done a very, very good job the last three years of building back up to the Ohio State standards…you’re starting seeing these athletes coming up on all special teams. There was a time a couple of years ago the linebackers weren’t involved in the kicking game. It was because for whatever reason they’re not. Now they’re all over the place…”.
In addition, there will be two more linebackers joining the position group in June, with Justin Hilliard and Jerome Baker both signing with Ohio State. As Coach Meyer said, Coach Fickell has replenished the linebacker position very well, and the results were evident during the 2014 national championship season.
If I had to summarize my concerns over this position group, it would be in the simple fact that the linebackers are very talented, but also very young. With the exceptions of Perry and Camren Williams, there are no upperclassmen. Injuries ended the careers of Trey Johnson and Devan Bogard, and the backup positions have seen minimal game experience outside of special teams duty.
Of course, former Ohio State Head Coach John Cooper used to say, “If a dog is going to bite, he’s going to bite as a pup.”. I would prefer Ohio State’s coaches let the young linebackers take their bites out on the opposition, especially early in the season, to help provide that necessary maturity and experience emerge.