Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
With only four returning starters from last season, the Ohio State football team’s defense will be full of new faces for the 2013 season.
At linebacker, rising junior Ryan Shazier is not just the only returning starter, but the only returning player at the position who received consistent playing time during last year’s undefeated season.
This spring, however, the competition at linebacker is wide open. Shazier is currently limited in spring practices due to a sports hernia injury, and said he is uncertain about when he will be healthy.
“To be honest, I really don’t know,” Shazier said. “I’ve just been doing my rehab with the trainers and everything, and they just tell me, take it day by day … I’m just going to try to get back as soon as possible.”
Shazier said the injury has been lingering since last season, and first felt it when the Buckeyes played Nebraska on Oct. 6.
“When I got back here, it just kept hurting, so I talked to the coaches and I got an MRI and I found out,” Shazier said. “I got a surgery to fix it, and now I’m just resting and rehabbing and just getting everything right.”
Shazier said it is frustrating not to be out on the field with his teammates.
“You see all your guys out here grinding, working hard, doing tough workouts and all you can do is watch,” Shazier said. “It really sucks … you can’t do anything about it.”
Given his injury, Shazier said his main goal for the spring football season is just getting back on the field.
“The main goal right now, I just want to be healthy and be back with my team, be a better leader and just have everybody rolling so we’ll be ready for camp in the fall when it comes back around,” Shazier said.
During practice open to the media Tuesday, the Buckeyes ran a 4-2-5 nickel defensive formation during drills, with rising junior Curtis Grant and rising sophomore David Perkins starting as the two linebackers.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that the Buckeyes plan to use that formation often during games this fall. Shazier said the increasing speed of the game in college football leads to playing more nickel defense.
“College football has changed into more of a speed and spread out game, so you never know what’s going to happen,” Shazier said. “We’re going to have more than three linebackers ready for every game, so just in case somebody goes down, we need a three-linebacker set, four-linebacker set.”
Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said the Buckeyes have not made any decisions yet on who will join Shazier in the starting lineup.
“There’s a lot of good-looking guys in shorts … we kind of hold our opinions until we get into some pads and play real football,” Fickell said.
Two additional linebackers who should factor into the competition for a starting spot are rising sophomores Joshua Perry and Camren Williams.
Williams said his goal is to earn a starting spot, but wants to help the team any way he can and believes in the players around him.
“I’ve got great guys around me,” Williams said. “We have young linebackers, but we have really good ones.”
Perry said he realizes the importance of the linebacker unit improving as a whole this spring.
“We have the most pressure on us out of anyone on the defense,” Perry said. “Even young guys on the D-line definitely played more (last season) than our linebackers who are young. We’ve got to step up.”
Fickell said that although the Buckeyes have to replace the majority of their starters on defense, he is excited about the team’s young talent.
“There’s a lot of guys with a lot of energy, some young guys that are really, really exciting,” Fickell said.
The Buckeyes have next week off for OSU’s spring break. They will take the field for their next practice March 19. The team’s annual Spring Game is set for April 13 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.