Here at the Men of the Scarlet and Gray we’re going to look at the upcoming 2006 OSU football team, previewing the team as the season approaches. We’re starting with the defense but hope to follow up with a preview of the offense as well. We’ll start our preview with the linebacker position.
Last year’s squad was one of the best LB corps in the nation, if not the best. With all three starters going on to the NFL, there will be some huge shoes to fill. We’ll look at the likely top six players stepping into the middle of the defense. The linebackers are coached by former OSU player Luke Fickell, and he should have this linebacker group ready to play. We’ve listed the top two players at each position, starting with the middle linebacker, and have included a couple other players to keep an eye on.
John Kerr (6-1, 246, 5th Sr.) – John wasn’t heavily recruited by the Buckeyes while playing at St. Ignatius, so John went to Indiana, where as a freshman had a lot of success. Sensing a chance to show OSU what they passed up on, he had a heck of a game, recording 13 tackles. He became disenchanted with Indiana’s Head coach and looked to transfer to Ohio State. John has had a tough row to hoe, not being afforded a scholarship due to his transfer, but he’s worked hard and is poised to step up this year as OSU’s defensive anchor. He hasn’t seen much playing time until this year but will hopefully step into the leadership role in the middle and continue the tradition of smash-mouth linebacker play.
Mike D’Andrea (6-3, 248, Sr.) – D’Andrea was the third member of the shining 2001 recruiting class that included Clarrett and Zwick (and, of course, Smith) but, so far, Mike’s career at OSU has been plagued with bad luck and injuries. A man-child as a freshman, D’Andrea worked hard and saw some playing time backing up Matt Wilhelm but had shortened sophomore and junior seasons. His junior season ending with knee surgery. He sat out all of last year and seems to be struggling to get back in health for this season. If he can get everything together and stay healthy, OSU will be thick at middle linebacker.
James Laurinaitis (6-3, 231, So.) – Let’s be honest about this – when your dad is a WWE wrestler, a Road Warrior, you’re already schooled in the school of trash-kicking. James instantly has linebacker cred with a childhood like that. James is the only other linebacker to see any significant amount of playing time last year. James came into the Michigan game after Bobby Carpenter went down with his injury and helped the defense hold Michigan’s running game to a paltry 32 yards. He also played well in the Fiesta Bowl, giving Laurinaitis experience. Being thrust into the Michigan game, at the Big House, must have been a mind-job. Talk about a trial by fire! James should see a lot of action this year.
Curtis Terry (6-2, 200, Jr.) – From Ohio State’s personal farm team, Terry hails from Glenville High School. I admittedly don’t know alot about Terry, other than his long, hard road to Ohio State. It’s hard not to root for the guy down on his luck, and Terry has seen his share of bad luck. Hopefully he can channel some of that negativity into postive motivation on the football field.
Marcus Freeman (6-2, 230, So.) – The weakside linebacker spot has been anchored for a while by a player you might have heard of – A. J. Hawk. Out of the three new starters, Marcus will probably have the most eyes fixed on him. Marcus played all 12 games as a true freshman, mostly on special teams, but coaches have been high on Marcus for awhile. He unfortunately got hurt in the 2005 opener and was awarded a medical red shirt after complications resulted after knee surgery. Many said at the beginning of last season that Freeman would be a starter on any team that didn’t have a Hawk, Schelegel or Carpenter.
Austin Spitler (6-3, 228) – Spitler is someone I don’t know a lot about but was the rated the #2 linebacker in Ohio by Rivals. Defensive coordinator Heacock has been positive on Spitler’s progress, however, and he’s built like a prototypical linebacker. Good speed and strength put him in a good postion. He’s got another thing going for him – he’s smart (He, Laurinaitis, and Gonzalez all earned 4.0 GPAs this past spring).
Players to keep an eye on:
Ross Homan (6-1, 237, Fr.) – Homan had a great spring game that impressed everyone who saw it. Homan may be a bit undersized now, but he’s only a freshman. So, obviously, there’s room to grow. With as much depth as there is at linebacker, though, I won’t be surprised if Ross redshirts the 2006 season. He should be an excellent backer in years to come.
Larry Grant (6-3, 225, JuCo transfer) – Coach Tressel doesn’t normally go after Junior College players, but Grant seems to have a big upside, even if it will only be for two years. Coaches are betting on his experience to help out the younger players. He did play for a National Champsionship while at San Francisco Community College. I’m not sure I agree that a “national championship is a national championship,” but I’m sure there was still pressure in that situation. Grant won’t be able to rely purely on his athleticism at this level. He’s got alot to learn.
So that’s a look at the individuals. But how will they play as a team? Let’s see how they’ll stack up in certain situations. First, how will they play against the run? OSU’s defense has always been stingy against the run, but this group of linebackers will be tested early in the season and often in the Big Ten. Kerr and Company will have their hands full. Kerr was tough against the run at Indiana, and Laurinaitis and Freeman on the corners are fast enough to contain most running games. Together with another stacked defensive line, I’m not too worried about the Buckeyes’ run defense.
The second situation would be the pass rush. Carpenter and Hawk got quarterbacks running all over the place last year, but I always cringed watching Schlegel blitz. He didn’t seem quick enough to make a big difference with the up-the-middle pass rush. Kerr should excell in that regard, as he seems lighter on his feet. D’Andrea can become an excellent blitzer if he’s given the chance. Freeman coming around the corner should see a lot of sacks, but I wonder if Laurinaitis will be a little under-sized going up against mammoth OTs.
Finally, how will these linebackers play the pass? This is what has me most worried, as this is where experience will play the biggest part. All three projected starters have decent height and wing-span, but the question will be how well they can match up against running backs in the flats and TEs over the middle. This will be the largest unknown but will play to OSU’s advantage as they won’t see a tested QB until Iowa. That gives them some time to gel as a unit, together with a new group of DBs. Time will tell how well the linebackers will play against the pass.
Overall, the more I look at the linebackers stepping into starting positions this year, the more I get excited about this defense. Individually, there isn’t a lot of experience for most of these guys. Collectively, however, you’ve got a decent pool of experience. Alot of them have played plenty of time on special teams and some have had spots where they’ve played decent minutes of meaningful game time. They should come together quickly as another group of linebackers worthy of the lineage of linebackers at Ohio State.