Ohio State Buckeyes: Zach Boren

Injury bug taking a toll on Buckeyes

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
3:00
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There won't be a surprise appearance with an offensive starter magically showing up to save the day on defense.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Icon SMIAs the regular season winds down, injuries have been piling up for Urban Meyer's defense.
If there was a candidate to fill Zach Boren's versatile shoes and make that jump, Ohio State would have already pulled that rabbit out of its hat by now.

But just like the Buckeyes had to do a year ago as they prepared for Indiana, they've been hit by a string of injuries that are stretching the defense thin at a crucial point in the season. And while the health concerns haven't forced coach Urban Meyer into a desperate enough situation that he needs to find a new starter from the other side of the ball this week, he is spending a lot of time teaching offensive players to tackle as the cumulative effects trickle down and start creating leaks elsewhere.

"Our effort this week is we're beat up a little bit," Meyer said. "Right now we're just going through it, and it's showing up in our coverage units a little bit. I want to say nine players are out for the season, scholarship players. Seven or eight of them are guys we were all counting on.

"Our emphasis is on teaching people how to tackle. We have five offensive players on punts right now. Never had that. Punt, you go down and tackle. When guys have never tackled in their career, that's bad coaching by us."

It might simply be just bad luck instead, since most of the recent problems have clustered for the Buckeyes on defense. Linebacker Joshua Perry wasn't even hurt on the field, missing last week's game at Illinois after slipping on ice.

But that unexpected issue for Perry, lingering ankle and back problems for fellow starting linebacker Curtis Grant, the season-ending broken ankle suffered by Christian Bryant, a neck injury that forced defensive end Joey Bosa to the sideline last week and a handful of other health concerns for key special-teams contributors have again forced the Buckeyes to get creative late in the season.

Perry is likely to return this week, and Grant could perhaps be back on the field as well. But the roster has not yet been restocked with enough bodies to help Meyer absorb many personnel losses, particularly at linebacker, which remains as thin as it was a year ago when Boren traded in his offensive responsibilities at fullback to plug a hole on defense with just a few days to prepare for the Hoosiers.

The Buckeyes pieced things together at Illinois last week by moving reserve outside linebacker Camren Williams into the middle and playing a lot of nickel and dime packages. But the coverage units were clearly short on tacklers, as they had their worst outing of the season and gave up a long punt return for a touchdown that highlighted perhaps Meyer's biggest area of concern down the stretch.

"Obviously, we've got to improve," Meyer said. "That's our focus this week, getting some players back. The problem is I'm not sure how many of those guys are going to get back, so we're preparing some of the younger guys to either play or play a little better.

"We're spending time. Either you try to create some defensive players, which doesn't usually work this time of year, or you just teach and get better."

The Buckeyes had a ready-made option to create a defender last year in time for the Hoosiers and their high-powered offense. This season, they're just trying to develop enough offensive players to fill out their special teams and make a few tackles.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
12:00
PM ET
I labored to put these links together. Get it? Get it? Enjoy the holiday.

Position preview: Linebackers

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
9:00
AM ET
Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp winds down and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

LINEBACKERS

Top of the depth chart: Ryan Shazier on the weak side, Joshua Perry on the strong and Curtis Grant in between them.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State linebacker Ryan Shazier led the Buckeyes in tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles in 2012.
Next in line: There is hardly any depth to speak of on the Ohio State roster at a position that has long been a source of pride for the program, and the numbers are low enough that walk-on Joe Burger could be a valuable part of the rotation. The Buckeyes have high hopes for a pair of freshmen signed in February, and Mike Mitchell has already emerged as a viable second-team option behind Grant. Trey Johnson has been somewhat slowed by injury during training camp, but he should contribute along with sophomore Camren Williams as the Buckeyes try to replace Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino.

New faces: The Buckeyes could have perhaps used more than two linebackers in the last recruiting class, but they did land a couple who have the athleticism and intelligence to lend a hand early in their careers. Mitchell has long been a student of the position and is well versed in the tradition at middle linebacker, and if for some reason the injury bug keeps following around Grant or he struggles in September, he could be on the field quickly. Johnson has been a bit banged up this month, but the Buckeyes will need him to speed through the learning curve to supply some much-needed depth.

Recruiting trail: The 2014 class already includes a pair of outside linebackers, including four-star prospect in Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius). But the real prize would be a pledge from Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), a monster inside linebacker currently ranked No. 14 in the nation among all players in the ESPN 300. Assuming Shazier returns for his senior season, the cupboard might once again start looking full at Ohio State in the heart of the defense.

Flexibility: Until the roster gets back where defensive coordinator Luke Fickell needs it, there’s only so much he can do with his unit. Shazier isn’t likely to leave the field under any circumstance, and the desire, and perhaps, necessity to play more nickel and dime packages, somewhat lessens the number of bodies needed on hand. Perry is expected to be a factor as the second option at linebacker in the nickel, and even with Grant’s injury concerns during camp, he remains the top option in the middle.

Notable numbers:

-- Nobody offered more to the Ohio State defense a year ago than Shazier, even while fighting through a painful sports hernia that required offseason surgery and slowed him down physically during the second half of last season. He still led the team in tackles (115), tackles for a loss (17) and forced fumbles (3), and his 5 sacks are the highest total of any returning defender.

-- Neither Perry or Grant were able to supply much off the bench a year ago, and the two combined for just 13 tackles in 18 combined appearances. The Buckeyes obviously need both of those numbers to improve dramatically given their high-profile roles moving forward.

-- In roughly half of a season each, Boren and Sabino couldn’t match the ruthless efficiency and production of Shazier -- but the combined contributions weren’t too shabby. Putting their statistics together, the tandem chipped in 95 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Big question: Can the Buckeyes survive again?

Whether it was through injury or ineffectiveness, an already thin group of linebackers a year ago was dwindling to the point of desperation when Boren made the shocking switch from fullback to middle linebacker in the middle of the season. But if one more injury had struck Fickell’s unit, what then? The Buckeyes are increasingly loading up with the type of talent the program has long been known for across the roster, but the linebacker position has been lagging behind so far and this season could once again require a test of creativity if injuries pop up to the starting unit. Few teams in the country could sustain the loss of a player as gifted as Shazier, so keeping him fresh and on the field is obviously a priority. But the Buckeyes also need Perry and a rejuvenated Grant on hand and playing at a high level if they’re going to be a true championship contender, and the focus will be on their development as much as their health moving forward.
Trades aren't happening in college football any time soon. Even if they were legalized, the thought of two hated rivals doing anything to potentially help each other out would make Woody and Bo start spinning in their graves.

But pretend for a second those laws were relaxed and the Buckeyes and Wolverines each had a need so pressing that the programs at least kicked around some ideas. As part of our ongoing look this week at "The Game," a couple ESPN.com beat writers took a shot to see just what they could get from each other that might spur on a championship run for the current roster. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, here's a look at how a (fictional) deal might have gone down.

From: OSU_GM

To: UM_PersonnelDept

Subject: Don’t tell anybody

Mr. Rothstein:

We probably shouldn’t even be talking, and if word gets out that we even considered making a deal, we might need to consider looking for new jobs. But since the rules against trades in college football magically vanished and we were hired for some reason to become general managers for Ohio State and Michigan, respectively, I think we at least owe it to ourselves to pursue all options. As I’m sure you’re aware, the Buckeyes were hit pretty hard by graduation in the front seven after knocking off the Wolverines to cap a perfect season last fall (in case you forgot about the celebration in the ‘Shoe). And recently the program has seen a group of linebackers that was already thin lose a couple more bodies that could have offered some help off the bench this fall. Additionally, while the future looks pretty bright at tackle for Taylor Decker or Chase Farris, right now there is one spot without much experience that tends to stand out when there are four seniors starting elsewhere on the line. So, I don’t know what position is troubling you most as training camp sneaks up on college football, but if there’s a potential swap or two that might help us both out, I am all ears. But you didn’t hear that from me.

Sincerely,

Austin Ward

Interim Ohio State personnel director

---

[+] EnlargeMichael Schofield
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe Buckeyes wanted Michael Schofield for experience at tackle, but Michigan's demands in return were too rich for OSU's blood.
From: UM_PersonnelDept

To: OSU_GM

Subject: Too late

Mr. Ward:

Unfortunately for you, I'm mouthy. And I've already started rumors you are trying to trade Braxton Miller for the remnants of Rich Rodriguez's offense. Apologies in advance. Not going to lie, looking over my roster I have concerns at wide receiver, running back and I could use some experience on the interior of the offensive line. Also, while there's some depth at cornerback, wouldn't mind grabbing one or two from you. Oh, and since you're interested in giving up Miller, that would solidify some of the depth issues there. I see you're fishing for a tackle. Sorry, Taylor Lewan is not available. While I like Michael Schofield a lot, he is more available at the right price. So too are some of the linebackers. What interests you on the Michigan squad? I'm willing to listen for anyone except for Lewan and quarterback Devin Gardner.

Sincerely,

Michael Rothstein

Fake Michigan personnel director

---

From: OSU_GM

To: UM_PersonnelDept

Subject: Re: BRAXTON

Hey bud, these talks just about ended instantly with any mention of the franchise quarterback being available. Newsflash -- Miller won’t be on the market heading into his senior season either, so get used to trying to defend him. At any rate, Schofield would be an intriguing option for the Buckeyes because he could provide another veteran presence with ample experience in the Big Ten, potentially giving Decker or Farris another year to develop physically before moving into the starting lineup in 2014. After getting a glimpse at what Desmond Morgan could do last fall when he made 11 tackles (in a losing effort) against Ohio State, he might look good in Scarlet and Gray, especially if the spring gave him flexibility to play in the middle. I probably don’t need to mention that Bradley Roby is untouchable in the secondary, but there is no shortage of talent alongside him in the backend. Might want to take a look at the stable of running backs the Buckeyes have in the fold as well -- but feel free to skip over Carlos Hyde.

AW

---

From: UM_PersonnelDept

To: OSU_GM

Subject: No subject

(Read full post)

With spring in the books for more than a month, the long march through the offseason and back to football is only beginning. But BuckeyeNation is going to keep doing its part to speed up the journey -- or at least make it more interesting. This week, that means a bunch of countdown lists, continuing today with a look at the most valuable Buckeyes coming out of spring practice and how it compares to the last breakdown of the 2012 season.

Ohio State 10: Post-spring power rankings, 6-10

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesBig things are expected of defensive end Adolphus Washington.
No. 6: DE Adolphus Washington

  • Last ranking: None
  • Last No. 6: DE John Simon
  • Spring movement: The sophomore isn't yet a proven commodity on a game-by-basis in the Big Ten, but he's stepping into big shoes and looks more than capable of putting his own footprints all over the league in his first season as a starter. Washington closed his camp with a flourish thanks to four sacks in the exhibition game in Cincinnati, but it was actually his sack and forced fumble in the win over Michigan last fall that really started to build the buzz for the physical, nimble big man on the edge. The Buckeyes are counting on him to deliver on some expectations that are pretty high heading into summer.
  • Key stat: Washington was largely limited to a supporting role during his first year on campus, but he made the most of his chances by chipping in three sacks off the bench -- turning them into a combined loss of 27 yards for opponents.
No. 7: WR Philly Brown

  • Last ranking: No. 5
  • Last No. 7: FB/LB Zach Boren
  • Spring movement: The Buckeyes have plenty of new faces coming in to lend a hand in the passing game, but Brown will again be the guy Braxton Miller looks for first after the two hooked up 60 times last fall. The big difference for Brown as a senior, though, figures to be how much more he can do with the football once he gets it. Urban Meyer gave the receiver a hard time early last season for his inability to make a defender miss, but that steadily improved throughout the season and doesn't look like it will be a factor again moving forward based on his agility and decisive cuts in camp.
  • Key stat: He definitely kept the chains moving, but among the Buckeyes who finished with double-digit receptions last fall, Brown ranked last in that group of four in terms of yards per catch at 11.1 yards. As that total goes up, so will the point total for Ohio State.
No. 8: DE Noah Spence

  • Last ranking: None
  • Last No. 8: DT Johnathan Hankins
  • Spring movement: The Buckeyes only had a glimpse at what the freakishly fast Spence could do as a freshman, but that was enough for them to feel good about plugging him in as a starter on the first day of spring camp. By the end of it, the defensive staff had even less reason to worry after the sophomore flashed his athleticism with three sacks in the spring game -- a performance that defensive line coach Mike Vrabel indicated wasn't even his best during camp. Ohio State appears locked and loaded on both edges, and it needs both Spence and Washington to live up to the hype for a completely rebuilt defensive line.
  • Key stat: The Buckeyes had no shortage of guys contribute at least one sack, but among the linemen, Washington actually finished second in that group with just three quarterback takedowns -- well behind Simon's nine. Spence offered up one as a freshman, but that number should improve dramatically and help the Buckeyes find a tandem capable of balancing the pass rush on both sides.
No. 9: FS Christian Bryant

  • Last ranking: No. 9
  • Spring movement: The experience on defense is stockpiled in the secondary, and no voice figures to carry as easily to the front as that of the senior safety. Bryant has made plenty of noise in the past with his vicious hits and a couple notable penalty flags, but there were few players more steady from the start of the undefeated season to the end of it as the ball hawk in the back end. The challenge for Bryant as he takes the next step is turning a few more of his passes defended into interceptions, and off the field he's embracing the fact that the pressure to mold a young defense is partially falling on his shoulders.
  • Key stat: Bryant did his part to create some turnovers with two forced fumbles, a recovery and an interception. But it's the last number where the Buckeyes see the most room for improvement. He broke up 12 passes in 2012 but only kept his hands on one.
No. 10: DT Michael Bennett

  • Last ranking: None
  • Last No. 10: CB Travis Howard
  • Spring movement: Bennett won't be approaching his position on the interior the same way his predecessor did, for obvious reasons. But what the junior might lack in size compared to big Johnathan Hankins, he can make up for with technique and speed on the interior. The Buckeyes aren't expecting that change in style to be an issue, and after Bennett was able to stay healthy throughout the spring, that potential doubt about him might be erased as well.
  • Key stat: A nagging groin injury limited Bennett to just eight games, and even when he was on the field, his workload was lighter than expected for somebody who entered the year as a potential starter. The Buckeyes will need a full season from Bennett, and definitely could use more than the 11 tackles he contributed as a sophomore.
2012 record: 12-0

2012 conference record: 8-0 (first, Leaders Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Philly Brown, LT Jack Mewhort, C Corey Linsley, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LB Ryan Shazier

Key losses: RT Reid Fragel, WR Jake Stoneburner, DE John Simon, DE Nathan Williams, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Garrett Goebel, FB/LB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Miller* (1,271 yards, 13 TDs)

Passing: Miller* (2,039 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Brown* (60 catches, 669 yards, 3 TDs)

Tackles: Shazier* (115)

Sacks: Simon (9)

Interceptions: Howard (4)

Spring answers:

1. End game: The Buckeyes have to replace all four starters up front, and while the defensive line isn't quite as deep and is far from a finished product, the future looks pretty bright on the edge. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were among the top prizes in Urban Meyer's first recruiting class with the Buckeyes, and that talent is already starting to shine through as they slide into first-team roles heading into the fall. Spence is a dynamic force with his ability to use speed to get to the quarterback, and Washington isn't exactly sluggish despite all the strength in his 293-pound frame. The two combined for seven sacks in the spring game, and the Buckeyes are expecting similar performances when it actually counts.

2. Air it out: Miller has proven what he can do with his legs, and Ohio State didn't really need to see him show them off in the spring. The emphasis was on continuing to develop the junior quarterback as a passer, which meant a heavy dose of play calls forcing him to put the ball in the air and a quick whistle if he tried to scramble. The results for Meyer were encouraging. His efficient, 16-for-25, 217-yard performance in the spring game showed a much more accurate delivery and better decision-making that hints at bigger things from the fifth-place finisher in last year's Heisman Trophy race.

3. Backfield stable: One thing that might keep Hyde from giving Meyer a 1,000-yard running back this season is all the teammates fighting to snag a few of his carries. The rising senior is the clear cut No. 1 to partner with Miller in the backfield, and Hyde didn't have to earn that job in the spring after piling up touchdowns last fall and finally tapping into his enormous potential as a rusher. But while he was watching some reps, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball all showed their upside this spring, which has the Buckeyes even toying with a diamond formation that gets three tailbacks on the field at the same time.

Fall questions

1. Filling out the front seven: Shazier is certainly a fine place for any defense to start, but the Buckeyes would obviously prefer if there were at least one other returning starter joining him in the front seven. There are high hopes again for junior Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, but he's been tabbed as a first-team guy before coming out of spring only to fizzle in the fall. Ohio State will need Grant and sophomore Joshua Perry to help lead the charge as it tries to add depth and talent at linebacker to stabilize a defense that will feature a lot of new faces.

2. Fresh blood: There wasn't a great option to fill Meyer's vaunted H-back position last fall, so the Buckeyes effectively had to put the hybrid spot, made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida, on the shelf. Jordan Hall's return from injury makes him a candidate to diversify the offense, but a handful of recruits the Buckeyes landed in Meyer's second class would could really take the spread to another level. Speed-burners such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall will be watched closely in August as they could become factors for the Buckeyes as early as September.

3. Something special: If the Buckeyes score as easily and often as it appears they might, maybe it won't matter who handles the kicking game. But Meyer has always taken pride in his special teams, and at this point there is still some uncertainty as Drew Basil is pressed into action as both a kicker and a punter. In the big picture, the changes on defense are far more critical -- but close games usually pop up along the way for teams trying to win a championship, and Basil might need to pass some tests for the Buckeyes.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just in case there wasn’t enough versatility for scouts to consider already, Zach Boren decided to add some.

There is no shortage of film on what the former Ohio State captain can do at fullback after spending the majority of his career throwing his body around as a blocker and building himself into perhaps the best player at the position in the Big Ten.

While there’s not as much to work with on the defensive side of the ball, Boren also has those six productive games at linebacker to highlight on his resume after his stunningly effective switch in the middle of his senior season.

If Urban Meyer had placed a banner with the words "The Chase" in Ohio State's indoor practice facility last spring, he might have been asked, "For what?"

Sure, football players are always chasing something, as Meyer noted Tuesday when asked about the big, bold banner now hanging at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. That "something" can be localized: a starting job, a bigger role in the offense or defense, a scholarship, a coach's approval.

But Ohio State couldn't chase many tangible team goals last spring. The Buckeyes couldn't chase a Big Ten championship or a national championship because of NCAA sanctions. They only found out in September that they could chase a Leaders Division title. Undoubtedly their greatest attribute was an ability to chase the grandest goal they could -- a perfect 12-0 regular season, capped by a win against archrival Michigan -- and achieve it.

The banner makes much more sense now. Ohio State has emerged from the shadow of postseason probation and can chase whatever it wants, including the crystal football that has eluded the Scarlet and Gray -- and the rest of the Big Ten -- for more than a decade.

[+] EnlargeOhio State: The Chase
Photo/Ohio State Athletics Communications The above banner is prominently displayed in Ohio State's indoor practice facility.
"Some guys are chasing starting positions," Meyer said, "some guys are chasing a bowl game, some guys an NFL contract. ... It means more, but that's where we're going to stop."

Meyer and his players can stop there for now. They should, as it's only spring practice. But "The Chase" will be a theme throughout Ohio State's offseason as bigger, broader goals are back on the table.

"Everybody’s got big dreams," Meyer said, "and we as a football team have some dreams."

Ohio State can dream big primarily because of an offense that transformed in 2012, rising from 81st nationally in scoring to 21st and from 107th in total yards to 47th. Quarterback Braxton Miller blossomed in Meyer's system, racking up a team-record 3,310 yards of offense, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Miller, who spent part of his winter break working with noted quarterback instructor George Whitfield in California, leads a unit that returns nine starters, including four linemen. Ohio State also regains the services of versatile running back Jordan Hall, who missed most of last season because of injury and turned heads during Tuesday's practice.

After delivering scathing -- and accurate -- critiques of Miller, the receivers and the entire offense last spring, Meyer has a much rosier outlook these days. Tuesday, he called Miller's footwork "outstanding" and praised Hall and several other skill players.

"Last year, who knew what as going to happen," the coach said. "I think the appropriate term was 'clown show' at this time. I don't feel like [it's] a clown show."

If Miller makes strides as a passer, Ohio State should have its most potent offense since the 2006 season, when the Buckeyes played for the national championship (coincidentally against Meyer's Florida Gators). The key to the spring -- and to the season, really -- is whether Ohio State produces a typical Ohio State defense. Otherwise, Meyer says, any discussion about "those two words that we don’t use very often" is pointless.

The spring spotlight shines brightest on the defensive front seven. Ohio State lost all four starting linemen from 2012, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon and massive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a possible first-round draft pick. Talented young linemen such as Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence got a taste last fall, and Meyer's staff has recruited extremely well up front, but others must emerge to fill out the rotation. Meyer on Tuesday challenged players such as Steve Miller and Chris Carter to do so.

All-Big Ten selection Ryan Shazier returns at linebacker, but depth remains a major concern for a group that needed fullback Zach Boren to fill a starting role midway through the 2012 season.

"If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we'll have a good team," Meyer said. "If not, we won’t. It's pretty simple."

There's also a leadership void to fill this spring. Players such as Simon and Boren made sure the Buckeyes kept up the chase in 2012. Meyer expressed concern last spring at how the team would handle its first brush with failure. Thanks to the seniors, it never happened as Ohio State recorded only the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history.

The torch has passed to players like Miller, a quiet kid from a quiet family whose voice must be heard more in 2013.

"He needs to be a better leader," offensive coordinator Tom Herman told reporters last month.

Other likely leaders include Shazier and dynamic cornerback Bradley Roby, a big talker who almost always backs it up on the field. Their challenge differs from that of their predecessors, who kept the team focused in spite of the bowl ban, yet did so under measured expectations.

The expectations are back to Tressel-era levels, and perhaps even higher because of the perfect season and Meyer's recruiting success. Anything less than a celebration Dec. 7 in Indianapolis -- and perhaps another Jan. 6 in Pasadena -- will be considered disappointing.

"The chase," Meyer said, "is on."

Spring forward: MLBs breakdown

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
9:00
AM ET
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

MIDDLE LINEBACKERS
      [+] EnlargeCurtis Grant
      Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMiddle linebacker Curtis Grant is looking to finally break through in 2014.

    • Who's back: Almost as suddenly as he arrived, Zach Boren's run at middle linebacker for the Buckeyes was over. Now they're left once again to find somebody capable of quarterbacking the defense, and as remarkable as Boren's story was at the position, it also underscored just how little depth the program had there at the halfway point of last season. Curtis Grant was supposed to be the answer after winning the starting job in spring practice and keeping it throughout training camp, but the rising junior ultimately wasn't a factor for the second year in a row and was passed on the depth chart twice before finishing as a third-team afterthought. The former elite recruit still has upside, though, and the Buckeyes will be monitoring him closely in a likely battle with sophomore Camren Williams to take over that critical spot in the heart of the defense.
    • New face: Trey Johnson drew praise on signing day from the Ohio State coaching staff for his advanced football intelligence, and Mike Mitchell's eye-popping athleticism is hard to ignore. Both of those traits would certainly go a long way in helping them handle a wide range of responsibilities while balancing the often challenging transition to the next level and potentially becoming an answer in the middle. But they won't be around to compete on the practice field with the rest of the linebackers until August, which certainly favors the returners.

(Read full post)

Ohio State hardly needs motivation thanks to the chip on its shoulder already firmly in place after sitting out the postseason with a perfect record. But just in case any players required any extra fuel heading into workouts or wanted a little help putting together some goals, BuckeyeNation is here to lend a hand with some records that could be in reach with another productive offseason.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier's ability to make tackles in the open field might put Ohio State's single-game solo tackles record in jeopardy next season.
SOLO TACKLES IN A GAME

  • Who owns it: The combination of a one-man wrecking crew and an abundance of chances to deliver hits has popped up a few times in Ohio State's decorated history, though Tom Cousineau's busy afternoon against SMU in 1978 still stands alone in the record books. The relentless, athletic linebacker chased down 28 overall tackles that day, but it was his 16 solo takedowns that established a new standard for the Buckeyes that have followed behind him.
  • Who wants it: A season like Cousineau delivered in 1978 with more than 200 tackles might be out of reach, but on a single-game basis, Ryan Shazier might be more than capable of threatening a record that hasn't had anybody come within two tackles of tying it in nearly 20 years. But the rising junior has made it well known that there's no ballcarrier he won't or can't run down with his blend of elite speed and strength, and he broke into double-figures in solo tackles twice as a sophomore. His personal best is 11, set this season against Illinois, but there will plenty of opportunites to top that next season.
  • Relevant number: Only one player in the Big Ten worked better alone on defense than Shazier last season, with his 70 solo tackles ranking No. 2 in the conference. The Buckeyes were obviously relying on Shazier to pick up the slack for a thin position group and stay on the field as much as possible, and he emerged as both durable and reliable at the second level -- finishing with at least 10 total tackles in half of the games during the perfect campaign.

(Read full post)

Ohio State missed on ESPN 150 wide receiver James Quick (Louisville, Ky./Trinity) over the weekend when the senior chose Louisville. What the Buckeyes did from a defensive standpoint, however, solidified an already strong unit.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comMike Mitchell plans on coming to Ohio State to compete for a starting job.
With headliners on the front line and in the secondary, all that was missing were some linebackers.

What Ohio State got in Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga./Central Gwinnett) and Mike Mitchell (Plano, Texas/Prestonwood Christian) could impact the team earlier than many expect.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Always tempted by the chance to play for a championship, Bradley Roby apparently didn't have enough incentive to walk away from the opportunity to do it with Ohio State next fall.

According to the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday night, the dynamic athlete is returning to the Buckeyes for one more season after flirting with a potential jump to the NFL after breaking out as a redshirt sophomore and becoming one of the most productive cornerbacks in the country.

After breaking up 19 passes to lead the Big Ten despite missing a game due to a nagging shoulder surgery, Roby was integral in the second-half defensive surge that helped Ohio State finish off its unbeaten season and boosted his own stock as a potential professional in the process. Eligible to leave the program early after redshirting during his first year on campus, Roby admitted having conversations with the coaching staff about his options well before the season was over.

But after spending more than a month deliberating after helping the Buckeyes finish off a perfect season with a win over rival Michigan, Roby ultimately made the choice that was largely expected since he talked openly about his desire to compete for a national title now that the program's postseason sanctions are in the rearview mirror. And he'll also have another full year to impress the scouts who have already taken notice of him by now.

(Read full post)

Next up: Replacing John Simon

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
9:00
AM ET
Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them.

DEFENSIVE END

  • Who: Within the Ohio State locker room or around the Big Ten, on the field with prolific production or in the weight room with his fanatical work ethic, John Simon's reputation and legendary status was officially secured during a senior season largely played at less than full strength. Battling various ailments without issuing a single complaint, the defensive end still finished the year on top of the conference in sacks. A two-time captain, Simon willed the Buckeyes through a series of other injuries that tested the defense and ultimately helped them finish unbeaten in the face of NCAA sanctions that prevented them from playing in the league title game or a bowl. Replacing everything Simon provided certainly will be no small task, but he's at least done all he could to provide a blueprint for those players coming behind him.

(Read full post)

Next up: Replacing Sabino, Boren

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
11:00
AM ET
Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Grant
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMiddle linebacker Curtis Grant is someone that OSU would like to step up to help fill the void left by Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren.
LINEBACKERS

  • Who: Neither senior was able to give a full season at linebacker, though it was an injury for one that helped open the door for the other to prove he was equally skilled on the defensive side of the ball after establishing himself as perhaps the best fullback in the Big Ten before that. After how much Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren offered the Buckeyes in what amounted to half of a year each, there's no question Urban Meyer would give plenty to have them back for one more run with the program -- particularly given the lingering depth concerns at the position. Boren was a natural at middle linebacker and provided invaluable leadership during a rocky defensive stretch in the middle of the season. Sabino blossomed as his career with the Buckeyes wound down, giving nearly every column on the stats sheet before a broken leg interrupted his last season. Both leave plenty of responsibilities behind, both on and off the field.

(Read full post)

Draft tracker: Hankins slotted at No. 5

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
2:55
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There's a long way to go and plenty to do before the NFL draft actually arrives.

But based on the early projections, Johnathan Hankins won't have to wait long to hear his name called.

ESPN.com's Todd McShay unveiled his first mock draft on Wednesday, and the Ohio State defensive tackle figured prominently in it just two days after officially declaring his intentions to forego his senior season. At this point, McShay is forecasting that the massive interior presence up front will come off the board with pick No. 5 overall, a slot that currently would send him to the Carolina Panthers.

Hankins' status with fellow ESPN.com draft expect Mel Kiper dipped a bit late in the season, and his latest rankings have the Ohio State product at No. 17 among all players eligible for selection.

Other notes from Kiper's latest analysis of Buckeyes:
  • Zach Boren currently rates at No. 2 among senior fullbacks, though his stock is rising after finishing the season at linebacker.
  • Offensive lineman Marcus Hall is evaluated as the fifth-best junior at guard.
  • Hankins is currently ranked behind Missouri's Sheldon Richardson, leaving him at No. 2 among juniors at defensive tackle.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

College Football Player Rankings: 21-40
Chris Spielman and Brian Griese discuss the players ranked 21-40 in ESPN.com's top 100 college football players.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video