OSU offseason questions: Linebackers

May, 16, 2014
May 16
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Who will be the difference-maker at the second level?

[+] EnlargeJoshua Perry
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJoshua Perry is one of several Buckeyes trying to make up for the loss of Ryan Shazier.
A starting unit appeared to take shape relatively quickly. Even without as much depth as the Buckeyes might like, a decent rotation seemed to be filling in behind the first unit by the time spring practice ended to provide more of a security blanket in reserve than the program has had over the last couple seasons. And a more aggressive approach combined with a simplified scheme put all of the linebackers more at ease with the system heading into the summer.

And while all of those things are positive developments for a unit that has had its share of struggles since Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, there is one uncertainty that will loom throughout the summer months, into training camp and probably into the first couple games before an answer emerges. Will anybody at linebacker be able to match the do-it-all production that Ryan Shazier provided before skipping his final season to jump to the NFL?

Joshua Perry was a serviceable starter a year ago opposite Shazier on the outside, and his move to the weak side was widely regarded as a successful transition during March and April. Curtis Grant earned praise from Meyer for having the best set of practices of his career, and Darron Lee was something of a revelation as he emerged as the third starter on the first day of practice and never relinquished the role.

But are any of them capable of giving the Buckeyes the type of consistent individual output and game-changing plays the way Shazier did with his incredible speed, sharp instincts and bottomless supply of energy? Shazier made 249 tackles over the last two seasons, and that loss alone is significant. But it was his 39.5 tackles for loss, his 7 forced fumbles and 11 sacks that made him such an impactful force for Ohio State, and those are big shoes for Perry, Grant and the unproven Lee to try to fill.

Of course, there's a chance that they may not have to do it by themselves. If the overall unit is more solid and the statistics are spread evenly among the linebackers, the Buckeyes obviously won't complain. And unlike last year, there may be more help coming off the bench, particularly if true freshman Raekwon McMillan builds on an impressive spring and pushes for early playing time in the middle and redshirt freshman Chris Worley challenges Lee for reps on the strong side.

But that clarity isn't likely to come for a while. And until then, even if the Buckeyes have somebody to fill Shazier's spot, finding somebody to replace his production will loom throughout the offseason.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter

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