- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just as soon as Ohio State took a big step forward in replenishing its depth at linebacker, it once again appears to have followed it up with one in the opposite direction.
The school confirmed on Monday that former four-star and ESPN 300 recruit Mike Mitchell is no longer practicing with the team and won't participate in the camp that opens Tuesday, another blow to the depth at the thinnest position on the roster. ElevenWarriors.com, citing sources, reported previously that Mitchell is planning to transfer at the end of the spring semester to be closer to his family and ailing father.
His departure would put more pressure on a group of four new recruits and two returning starters for a unit that has clearly not lived up to coach Urban Meyer’s expectations over the last two years and has been plagued by attrition.
The news release from the program doesn't address his future plans, but Mitchell’s departure would make him the fifth linebacker to leave the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2012 season, ramping up pressure on the incoming freshmen and rising sophomore Trey Johnson to fill the void left by all those missing bodies.
“The emphasis is on linebacker,” Meyer said last month. “There have been far too many mistakes in either lack of development or whatever, and it’s just not where we need to be.”
Mitchell was supposed to help address that when he chose to leave his home state of Texas last year and join the Buckeyes, but he ended up redshirting last season despite the lack of many options at the position.
The need to find more contributors in the middle of the defense only increased when star outside linebacker Ryan Shazier elected to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. And while veterans Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant will return for the Buckeyes, at a minimum they’ll need to identify one new starter and could wind up counting on the newcomers to fill out the two-deep given the accumulating losses concentrated at linebacker.
Mitchell would join David Perkins, Luke Roberts and Conner Crowell (injury) as potential candidates for playing time who have left the program since the end of the 2012 campaign, stretching Ohio State thin and contributing to the uneven play of a defense that struggled at the end of last season during consecutive losses to Michigan State and Clemson.
“There’s four linebackers that have been recruited, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker, four guys I’m putting pressure on,” Meyer said. “[Co-defensive coordinator Luke] Fickell and myself have to get them ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already.
“So just so everybody knows, there’s no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.”
It’s now more clear than ever that Ohio State won’t have much time to wait for those young guys to develop.