COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Some changes were subtle, some were more obvious for Joshua Perry as he replayed his first season as a full-time starter on video from beginning to end.
Early in the season, the Ohio State linebacker might not have always been as quick to react, didn’t appear to be playing with much confidence and was occasionally prone to missing tackles or assignments, though not all of that is perhaps as clear to anybody else as it is Perry.
What might be easier to decipher is his shift across the defensive formation, starting on the strong side then picking up a few more responsibilities in the middle as his familiarity with the speed of the game and production both increased. That transformation is still on display and spilling over to the spring. Perry has moved again, this time to the weak side, where he is trying to keep the ball rolling after his solid finish last season by tackling both everything he sees and the challenge of replacing Ryan Shazier, Ohio State’s most prolific defender.
“A lot of times you don’t want to necessarily look back and harp on negative things, but you need to take the negatives and the weaknesses and know what they are so you can make them into strengths,” Perry said. “I’ve taken some time and done that, and overall it’s just the intensity of the game and playing with my fundamentals that has really changed. When I can do that, I gain confidence to be able to go harder every play.
“You know, the sky is the limit for me, I think.”
The Buckeyes are counting heavily on Perry to get closer to his ceiling as a junior, particularly since the defense, as a whole, largely struggled to even get off the ground last season.
Perry played a part in those issues at times, and even when he started to turn the corner individually down the stretch, it wasn’t enough to offset problems elsewhere as Ohio State was gashed for piles of yardage and 115 points during its last three games.
Perry was actually turning in his most productive run of the year over that period with 22 tackles, chipping in a pair of tackles for loss and making his only sack of the season in the loss to Clemson. While the Buckeyes lost two of those three games, Perry’s personal numbers might help provide something of a springboard as he tries to fill the enormous statistical void left by Shazier’s early departure to the NFL.
“Right now, I’m trying to get that comfort level to where I can just see the play and react, be downhill,” Perry said. “If I need to cover, I’m going to go cover, but I want to do everything fast and with reckless abandon.
“That’s the thing, I had that comfort level towards the end of the year to be able to play a little bit faster, know my assignment and just go. ... But it’s all a process. When it clicked [last year] is not necessarily as important as keeping the momentum and the consistency going.”
Perry’s bit of forward progress from the end of the season is an encouraging sign for an Ohio State defense still trying to rebuild a unit of linebackers that has been hit hard by injuries, transfers and lack of development over the last few seasons, but it’s the latter that will be more critical for him if he’s going to deliver like his predecessor.
Shazier’s consistency was unmatched on the Ohio State roster, and few players around the country were able to contribute in the variety of ways he did as a sideline-to-sideline tackler, playmaker in the backfield and vicious hitter capable of forcing four fumbles. But Perry has made it clear he has no problem stepping into those shoes this spring to continue the ongoing transformation that has been documented on the game film, even when it’s not always plain to see.
“I mean, they were pretty big changes, to a certain point,” Perry said. “But there’s definitely still a lot of changes that can be made.
“Last year, I did all right, I got a little momentum heading into the end of the year and I think that’s carried over a little bit. But I can’t stop now.”