OSU Buckeyes: Storm Klein
- Most valuable player: There's not any question that Ryan Shazier was the most outstanding player at linebacker, and his numbers and various contributions might well give him a case that he was the one defender the Buckeyes couldn't live without. And while Zach Boren didn't play a full season at the position, didn't have anywhere near as much statistical production and still looked more like a fullback for a couple weeks after moving over to the defensive side of the ball, the senior's willingness to make the transition stands out by itself as invaluable to the team dynamic. But on top of that, the way he willed it into a success to stabilize a position that was already thin before getting wiped out by injuries will go down in Ohio State lore.
- By the numbers: The math is pretty easy, given the even split of the season for Boren, who moved over to linebacker during a Tuesday practice just before the seventh game of the year and never went back. It also helps to have a nice round number, and Boren's 50 tackles would have put him on pace to be the only defender aside from Shazier to hit triple digits if he'd spent the entire season chasing the football instead of occasionally carrying it at fullback. Considering how quickly he zoomed through the learning curve and how well he was playing at linebacker by the end of the season, perhaps Boren's stats would have looked even better over a full slate. But at the rate he produced over six games, a 12-game Boren might have looked like this: 100 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two recoveries.
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Ohio State and its backers are relegated to just watching other teams from here on out and hoping to get recognized. The good news is, they shouldn't have to worry about that this time next year.
While the Buckeyes' 12-0 season won't end with a BCS national title shot, it does set up next year's team for a run at the crystal football. Urban Meyer's first year couldn't have gone any better, and Ohio State will almost certainly start next season in the Top 5 and possibly the Top 3.
"This sets the standard pretty high," senior tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner said. "I don't think anyone really expected coach Meyer to come in and turn it around like he did. But for anyone who wants to be a Buckeye or is a Buckeye right now, there's no better place to be."
Ohio State went from a team that Meyer said repeatedly had a lot of holes during the first half of the season to one that had no holes in its résumé. That should frighten the rest of the Big Ten, as Meyer inherited a 6-7 team full of guys he didn't recruit, many of whom didn't really fit his offensive system, and he was still able to go undefeated. What will he do once he starts bringing in game-breaking receivers and running backs who can go the distance?
Even though Meyer said Monday that this team's passing game "is not even in the same hemisphere as what we want," the Buckeyes still led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game. And that offense loses only two starters, Stoneburner and right tackle Reid Fragel, while hoping senior running back Jordan Hall gets a medical redshirt. Meyer said after Saturday's win over Michigan that Carlos Hyde has progressed into one of the top running backs in the country. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is a possible Heisman Trophy finalist who still needs to make tremendous strides in his passing accuracy and pocket awareness.
"I don't see the ceiling yet," Meyer said. "He's got that much further to go."
The 2013 Buckeyes will be the heavy Big Ten favorites and their schedule is once again very manageable. They play Buffalo, San Diego State and Florida A&M at home, with only California on the road in the nonconference slate. In league play, they trade Nebraska and Michigan State for Northwestern and Iowa as non-protected crossover opponents from the Legends Division.
That doesn't mean next year's team doesn't have some major areas of concern. The defense could lose its entire front four if junior tackle Johnathan Hankins leaves early for the NFL as expected. Cornerback Bradley Roby, a redshirt sophomore, will have a decision to make on his future. If he goes pro, that would mean both starting corners are gone, since Travis Howard is a senior. And three of the team's top four linebackers -- Etienne Sabino, Zach Boren and Storm Klein -- have used up their eligibility.
"The linebackers, we've got to get that right," Meyer said. "That's the weakest area of our team right now."
Ohio State will be starting a bunch of young players on defense and will need its offensive line to stay healthy again because there is not much depth. But intangibles, not talent, might be the biggest question mark.
Meyer said he wasn't sure the senior class was entirely on board with him until an emotional meeting before the Sept. 29 Michigan State game. He raves about that group's "complete selflessness" which he said might be the best of any team he's been around. He pointed to defensive end John Simon playing through severe shoulder pain, Boren switching from fullback to linebacker midseason and Sabino rushing back from a broken leg to contribute as key examples. Meyer said he will have a wall in the team's training facility dedicated to this year's team, complete with video highlights that feature the team's unselfish nature.
There's no guarantee that next year's team will repeat that. Meyer also worries about the complacency that success can bring. He said he'll try to find ways to motivate the players in the offseason, including using the fact that a bowl game was taken away from them in 2012.
"We've got to make sure that doesn't take place," he said. "We need an angry team next year. If we have to manufacture that, we will. We're going to try to push the right buttons to get an angry team. If they're not angry, [if they're] complacent this team's as good as dirt, just like any team."
This year's team was good enough to go undefeated, something Meyer never accomplished at Florida despite winning two national titles there. It's scary to think how good the Buckeyes can be in the future after the first year he had in Columbus. Buckeyes fans might not have to concern themselves too much with what other teams are doing in late November.
No. 2: Ryan Shazier
- When: Sept. 15 against California
- What: There certainly wasn't anything missing from the first two games of his sophomore season, but it was the third that offered the most clear example of what Shazier was capable of -- or, at least provide a reminder of his playmaking barrage at the end of his freshman season. The Buckeyes were far from perfect defensively in the win over Cal, but Shazier's 13 tackles, 2 takedowns for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble helped the Buckeyes do enough to survive and foreshadowed what was still to come.
- Impact: The big plays Ohio State gave up perhaps added more drama than was necessary and made the final score closer than it needed to be, but the defense also chipped in a couple significant plays along the way. Shazier, in particular, stuffed a Cal drive just before halftime that could have tightened up a two-score game by shooting into the backfield for a third-down sack that forced a punt, preserving Ohio State's advantage.
- How: There might still be room for improvement on the mental side, but physically Shazier has been more than capable of making up for it with an incredible blend of strength and speed to complement a relentless motor that allows him to make plays anywhere between the sidelines. At times he's also had to shoulder more of the load than expected with senior Etienne Sabino out with a broken bone in his leg, middle linebacker Storm Klein dealing with a back injury and a lack of depth that prompted Ohio State to convert fullback Zach Boren over to linebacker. But Shazier has done everything that's been asked of him, and has a stuffed stats sheet to show for it.
- For the season: 98 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 11 passes defended, 4 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries, 2 forced fumbles and a touchdown
- He said it: “He's an athlete and he's very blessed, he runs around and makes tackles, but he's also out of position at times. ... There's still so much more there. He can even be better." -- Urban Meyer
Breathing room: The Buckeyes didn't make it through a physical, two-week gauntlet to open conference play unscathed, but they did survive with their perfect record in one piece. The Hoosiers aren't likely to make life nearly as difficult as Nebraska or Michigan State did defensively, but with a few injury concerns and another spread offense coming at it, Ohio State will have to guard against a letdown. The schedule is loaded with the difficult games at the front and the back for the Buckeyes, but if they don't take care of business in the middle stretch, they won't even have a case for the increasing talk about an AP national championship.
Friendly face: The coaches on either sideline go back more than a decade, and the mutual respect between two innovators of the spread offense hasn't faded at all with time or the fact that they're now competing against each other in the same conference. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson was famously once part of a staff at Northwestern that welcomed Urban Meyer to campus to talk some shop, and while the Buckeyes coach obviously has no shortage of ideas of his own, he still hasn't forgotten some of the help he got back when he was at Bowling Green. Their current programs both rank in the top three in the Big Ten in total offense, and there could be plenty of fireworks in Bloomington.
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A senior has been removed from the equation at linebacker for at least three weeks for Ohio State, and it's going to be up to a freshman to fill the void at the second level starting on Saturday at Indiana.
There is no shortage of options with a handful of talented defenders waiting for a chance to contribute, but to this point they've all largely been limited to special teams work. Two of them were given opportunities to show what they could offer in a blowout win against Nebraska with some inconsistent results that reflected their youth, but they both factored in this week's Freshman Focus and could be critical players to watch on the road against the Hoosiers.
- Position: Defensive back/special teams
- Stats sheet: Two tackles
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That might be all Ohio State needs this week.
The loss of Etienne Sabino for at least three games due to a broken bone in his right leg will test the depth at a position that was already perhaps the most inexperienced on the roster. But as the Buckeyes prepare for a trip to Indiana on Saturday, they might be in position to survive for a week without the senior captain given the amount of Nickel they're likely to be playing against a pass-happy offense.
"Tremendous blow," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "Very good player ... and we’re going to miss him.
Khris Hale/Icon SMIUrban Meyer isn't quite ready to call Braxton Miller a Heisman finalist.
The Buckeyes are going to need at least one of those young guys to contribute in the base personnel package, and Joshua Perry is in line for the start in place of Sabino.
They're also looking for more contributions from guys like David Perkins, Jamal Marcus and Camren Williams, who are much more likely to see action on defense now that the team's third-leading tackler is on the shelf for an extended period of time. But when Ohio State puts an extra defensive back on the field to match up with a passing attack that is throwing for more than 300 yards per game, it will be sticking with its veterans -- even if Shazier just barely counts as one as a sophomore.
"Any time one of your captains goes down, especially a big leader on the team, you need a lot of guys to step up," defensive end John Simon said. "[Sabino] gave a pretty good speech there in the locker room, and he just kind of laid it out for us.
"We’ve got a lot of guys who need to step up this week, and I think we’re starting to prepare for that task and looking forward to it."
Awards talk: Meyer still isn't ready to anoint Braxton Miller as a Heisman Trophy candidate. But the time appears to be getting closer.
The sophomore was named the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback of the Week after another wildly productive outing in a win over Nebraska on Saturday, and his work on the ground over the last two games to open Big Ten action has only strengthened his case as a potential option for Heisman voters at the end of the season.
But Meyer isn't ready to do any campaigning for his guy just yet.
"I don’t think Braxton is a Heisman candidate right now," Meyer said. "I think he’s certainly one to watch, he’s got the ability, but I don’t know who is [a candidate now]. We’re only halfway through the season, in two or three games I think you can start talking about it.
"I’m not talking to Braxton about it. We’re trying to win some games. I think at the right time, he will be a candidate if he continues to play very well."
Bumps and bruises: C.J. Barnett appeared to have a chance to get back on the field since he was in uniform for the win over the Huskers, though his high-ankle sprain again kept him on the sideline.
The Buckeyes might finally be able to turn the safety loose again this week at Indiana.
"Good sign yesterday, he was out there running around," Meyer said. "We need to have him back for obvious reasons."
- Offense: Running back Carlos Hyde (player of the game), fullback Zach Boren, wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown, left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley
- Defense: Cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive end John Simon (co-players of the game), safety Christian Bryant
- Special teams: Corey "Philly" Brown (player of the game), kicker Drew Basil, Armani Reeves, Zach Domicone, Devan Bogard and Rod Smith
Ohio State is 6-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country. But there is one thing that could derail this great start for the Buckeyes: injuries.
Specifically, injuries would present serious problems at three positions for Ohio State: quarterback, offensive line and linebacker. The latter group received some bad news on Monday.
Senior outside linebacker Etienne Sabino fractured a bone in the fibula of his right leg during Saturday's 63-38 win over Nebraska, the team announced today. Sabino has already had surgery and had a plate inserted into his leg. Ohio State is saying he will be out about four weeks, though Urban Meyer said three weeks is a best-case scenario.
"Tremendous blow," Meyer said at his weekly news conference Monday. "Sabino is like a son and brother to everybody."
He's like an older brother to the Buckeyes' linebacking corps as one of its few veterans. Sabino has 11 career starts and 46 games under his belt. He's had an interesting career, struggling to get on the field early, then redshirting in 2010 for what would have been his true junior year. But Sabino has started to really come on this season and had his best game two weeks ago against Michigan State. He's third on the team in tackles (37), tied for second in sacks with two and has an interception and forced fumble.
His replacements, according to the team's latest depth chart, are a pair of true freshmen: Joshua Perry and David Perkins. Both are talented players, but they obviously lack much game experience. Ohio State's other starting outside linebacker, Ryan Shazier, is a sophomore who's backed up by two freshmen. Senior middle linebacker Storm Klein is the only elder statesmen in the group now.
Ohio State's defense has been susceptible to missed tackles and blown assignments this season, though it done a better job of that the past two weeks. Believe it or not, Indiana should actually present a good test for that linebacking group this weekend, as the Hoosiers do have a strong passing game.
Beyond that, the Buckeyes will face Purdue at home and then go to Penn State. Then they have a bye week, so hopefully Sabino can be ready for the final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan.
The pressure is now on Ohio State's young linebackers to produce. And Buckeyes fans will have to hope for no other serious injuries at the team's thinnest positions.
For the moment, though, the old guys are simply making it hard for the freshmen to contribute in the present.
Camren Williams went on the road and contributed another tackle on special teams, but steady play from a couple of seniors is making hard for reps to be found at linebacker. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington both have sacks early in their careers, but Nathan Williams has returned from injury and is looking stronger every week in keeping the youngsters on the sideline. Taylor Decker competed all through camp at right tackle, but Reid Fragel has developed into one of the most steady contributors on the line since then to keep another freshman on the sideline.
So while this space would normally look at the contributions the most recent signing class has made and tracked the development of the new guys, the contributions from a few seniors who qualify as surprises couldn't be ignored after Ohio State's 17-16 win over Michigan State. And this week, the focus is on them.
- Position: Defensive end
- Stats sheet: 5 tackles, 2 quarterback hurries and a sack
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It certainly gave Ohio State something to think about, though, delaying a decision on who will start in the banged-up backfield on Saturday against California for a couple more days.
The reviews were positive from both Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer and teammates after Hall was worked hard and watched closely on practice Wednesday. But the Buckeyes will wait to see how the senior running back feels on Thursday as he recovers from surgery in June to repair a torn tendon in his foot, and they'll continue weighing their options until shortly before kickoff against the Golden Bears.
Nate's wait: Nathan Williams passed the test to play in the season opener.
How much the senior defensive end might get to remains to be determined.
The status for Williams still remains a bit unclear after he checked out physically during practice on Monday, which Meyer indicated would be critical for his chances to return from microfracture knee surgery with an appearance on Saturday against Miami (Ohio).
"We’re going to meet again," Meyer said. "He did practice, limited basis, and we’ll try to get him in the game. I’ll know more -- [Monday] he passed the test to get in the game, but how much, it wasn’t enough to let you know how much he’s going to play."
Unleashing the tiger: The hits still didn't count for anything on Monday, so Meyer continued to have a quick whistle when his quarterback was on the run.
Considering the Buckeyes were calling plays designed to take advantage of Braxton Miller's mobility, that apparently earned Meyer a few dirty looks from the sophomore.
But the time to turn Miller loose is rapidly approaching.
"I’ve made the comment about a caged tiger, and there’s no question [he's ready]," Meyer said. "We ran a couple plays yesterday where they were actually designed runs, and I blew the whistle before he got to the line of scrimmage. He looked at me like, ‘What are you, nuts?’ He’s ready, pretty excited."
Klein playing catch-up: Meyer didn't want any surprises as he did his own investigation into Storm Klein's legal situation after the case was resolved last week.
The Buckeyes coach didn't find any after talking with people in both families involved in the July arrest, and he honored his word by reinstating the senior linebacker after the domestic violence charge was dismissed and the assault charge was lowered to disorderly conduct when Klein pleaded guilty.
But Klein still has work to do if he's going to do more than simply be part of the program again as he begins a minimum two-game suspension this weekend.
"He was released because of a charge of a domestic issue, and everything associated with that charge was dropped," Meyer said. "I told him if that did happen, like anything, I’d reassess the situation. I wasn’t comfortable with just the legal part of it, so I talked to both families and I wanted to make sure there wasn’t something behind Door No. 2 that I wasn’t aware of, and there was not.
"[His role] is to be determined. He missed all of training camp, so he won’t play until he makes up everything. He’s currently making up a bunch of stuff."
The last part of offseason workouts in the summer continued without him.
Ohio State started and ended training camp without Storm Klein as well, and they'll head into the fall with him suspended for at least two games, the school announced.
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The legal situation has been resolved. Now it's up to Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer to provide the verdict that will determine the future for the would-be senior linebacker.
Klein was dismissed by the program almost instantly for violating one of the team's core values after his arrest in early July included allegations of violence against a female. But a charge of domestic violence against Klein was dismissed on Wednesday, and he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
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The data Urban Meyer relies on year after year to gauge how successful a training camp was isn't available until four games are in the books, so the grades are still incomplete from the Ohio State coach for now.
But he wanted physical practices, and Meyer seemed pleased with the intensity the Buckeyes delivered. He also wanted a team that survived that style of play with its health intact, and after knocking on wood, Meyer appears to have got what he wanted there as well.
"Unbelievable," Meyer said after a workout on Monday evening. "I mean, the way we practiced and I don’t think we’ve lost a guy, have we?"
The only potential losses from the lineup for the opener on Sept. 1 already existed before camp, with Jordan Hall's foot injury and the surgically repaired knee of defensive end Nathan Williams currently looming as the only possible absences of significance.
The Buckeyes have dealt with a few minor health issues through camp, with contributors such as tight end Jeff Heuerman missing time with a tight hamstring and starting linebacker Ryan Shazier briefly on the shelf with an undisclosed ailment as well.
But aside from season-ending surgery for true freshman offensive lineman Joey O'Conner, a knee scope for reserve safety Zach Domicone and a hamstring injury for freshman wide receiver Frank Epitropoulos, the Buckeyes appear to have a full deck heading into the season.
And four weeks after it begins, Meyer will know if he should have pushed the Buckeyes even harder or dialed it back.
"The only thing I worry about is the health in the heat, you know, I’m scared to death of the heat," Meyer said. "We’ve been fortunate. We try to push them as hard as we possibly can, and how you evaluate that is just over the last 10 years how we do in the first four games. We’ve gone, I think we’re 39-1 or something like that in our first four games and we have really hard camps.
"Sometimes you play teams you’re better than, and sometimes you don’t. That’s how I try to evaluate every year if we’re going too hard, but we’re fine."
PASSING GRADE: Walking off the field, Meyer admitted he wasn't really aware of what the offense had just done.
But once he popped in the film of Saturday's closed scrimmage, there was clear evidence of the improvement he's been emphasizing in the Ohio State passing game. And while statistics have not been released publicly, Meyer tallied one up for Braxton Miller that surely validated his progress leading the attack at quarterback.
"He threw for 350 yards in the scrimmage, so he had a good day," Meyer said. "Really good day. I didn’t realize it until after the scrimmage.
"The area where we’re much improved is throwing and catching, much improved. We couldn’t have gone much the other way, but they are much improved. The receivers have stepped up."
They were clearly making the most of a lot of balls thrown their way from Miller in a session that Meyer indicated was largely the first-team offense against the second-team defense.
Corey "Philly" Brown was likely the biggest beneficiary after being designated as Ohio State's "No. 1 receiver right now" by Meyer, with Devin Smith apparently not far behind. But Jake Stoneburner, Michael Thomas and Nick Vannett also drew praise for their recent work by Meyer, who hasn't been shy in the past about criticizing his targets.
"I feel right now the offense will be fairly competent," Meyer said. "I can’t say great because I don’t see that yet. But I see competency, I see the ball being snapped correctly, I see an offensive line protecting and doing the right things and the skill [players] are starting to improve.
"It didn’t look that way for the first two weeks in the spring."
UP FOR GRABS: The Buckeyes didn't leave the scrimmage with a resolution at right tackle.
Their workout on Monday certainly didn't provide an answer either.
The other four spots on the offensive line are seemingly locked in for the opener against Miami (Ohio), but converted tight end Reid Fragel and freshman Taylor Decker are still jockeying for the fifth one -- and it appears neither did anything to win it during the latest practice session.
"We can’t name a starter right now," Meyer said. "... Right tackle has got to be a little better. They’re trying, but one at times looks like a freshman because he is and one looks like a guy that just moved from tight end.
"It’s fresh in my mind because they got slapped around a little bit today."
KLEIN TRIAL PUSHED BACK: Former Ohio State linebacker Storm Klein's trial date, originally scheduled for Monday, has been pushed back to Sept. 24, according to Franklin County Municipal Court documents.
The senior was dismissed from the team in July after being charged with domestic violence and assault for an alleged incident with the mother of his child.
According to court documents, Klein's primary attorney, Phil Templeton, filed a motion in Franklin County Municipal Court on Wednesday.
The senior was kicked off the team by new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer shortly after he was arrested and charged with domestic violence and assault on July 6 after an incident with a woman who has a child with Klein.
The court issued a temporary protection keeping Klein away from the alleged victim and the child, but that was altered Wednesday to allow him to see his daughter. The mother is still protected, and Klein continues to be barred from the use of drugs and alcohol, he cannot possess a firearm and can't commit any additional acts of violence as part of his bond.
Klein's court date is scheduled for Aug. 20.
Meyer has twice indicated that the door remains open for the linebacker to return to the team depending on his legal situation, though he has repeatedly stressed that the nature of the alleged incident is one of the worst transgressions in the core values he has established with the program.
"Storm has a good reputation, good grades, good student, good guy," Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days two weeks ago. "He made a severe violation, and from Day One, my first meeting was very clear about what we expect. It’s non-negotiable, and he knew it, he understood it.
"However, if it all changes, we’ll re-evaluate it."
Freshman Bri'onte Dunn was charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia after a traffic stop Saturday night in Alliance, Ohio. According to police, Dunn nearly hit a patrol car before he was pulled over. Then officers allegedly found a pipe and small amounts of marijuana in the car. Dunn received a citation and was not taken to jail.
The Buckeyes have yet to comment on the situation, but Urban Meyer has already set a precedent of being tough with players who get in trouble. He suspended starting offensive lineman Jack Mewhort and tight end Jake Stoneburner this summer after they were charged with obstructing official business. He also dismissed linebacker Storm Klein after his misdemeanor domestic violence arrest. Meyer needed to set the tone early with his team and he did, but now he may have no choice but to take similar action against Dunn, if the charges stand.
Dunn was a four-star recruit and he enrolled early and participated in spring practice. The 6-foot-1, 214-pound back was expected to see some playing time early, especially with projected starter Jordan Hall out for at least the early part of the season with a foot injury.
Ohio State still has veterans Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith at the running back spot, but the numbers there could be getting low.