It was the final night in Ohio Stadium for the Ohio State football team’s senior class. Players like Jack Mewhort, Bradley Roby, Carlos Hyde and Corey “Philly” Brown were set to step on the field as players for the last time in the ‘Shoe.
One player who, at the time of the game, was thought to be coming back and continuing his Buckeye career was junior linebacker Ryan Shazier. But Nov. 23 against Indiana, Shazier had his most memorable — and final — performance at home.
In the 42-14 win, Shazier tallied 20 tackles, the first time a Buckeye did it since A.J. Hawk in 2004. Less than two months later, he declared for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Now the Buckeyes have a hole to fill on defense, but coach Urban Meyer watched the future OSU linebackers Saturday at the 2014 Spring Game, saying he liked what he saw from early enrollee and freshman Raekwon McMillan and others.
“He’s officially in the rotation,” Meyer said of McMillan after the game. “He’s gonna play … I’d put him the same category as the other guys, (redshirt-freshman Chris) Worley and (sophomore) Darron Lee — those guys all earned that they’re playing … (senior) Curtis Grant. Curtis had his best spring, so he’s earned that right.”
Grant said March 6 that after watching McMillan play in spring practice, he recognizes the ability the freshman can bring.
“Raekwon looks real good, he is real talented,” Grant said. “He comes in with a lot of things a lot of freshmen don’t come in with.”
Although McMillan comes into OSU as a heralded five-star recruit, he wasn’t the only standout linebacker in spring practice.
Lee, who hasn’t played during his Buckeye career so far, took many of the first team reps during practice.
Meyer said Lee isn’t clear as the starter — as Worley is neck-and-neck with him for the position — but also that he has improved greatly since he came to Columbus.
“Darron Lee and Chris Worley are two talented guys that are developed guys and … we almost sent Darron back to New Albany, on a one way bus ticket,” Meyer said. “He just didn’t show up with the right demeanor and … then about halfway throughout the season, you saw this really natural athlete and great kid start to develop. And here he is, and he’ll most likely start for Ohio State.”
Meyer added that there is only one starting spot that has been decided on so far of the three at linebacker, and that everything else is still up in the air.
“Yeah, (junior) Josh Perry’s pretty well done. He’s the Will (weak side) linebacker at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “Darron Lee, and the other four spots are not. The other two spots are occupied by four people. We have two Sam (strong side), Darron Lee and Worley. Mike (middle) linebacker is Curtis Grant and Raekwon.”
Perry and Grant are the two regular starters returning from last season, and combined for 116 tackles and 3.0 sacks in 2013.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said March 6 after practice that although some of the weight will be on the shoulders of the more experienced players, it’s more about creating a cohesive unit.
“It’s a confidence issue, whether you’re a younger guy or an older guy,” Fickell said. “We’ve got to make sure that all of these guys play together, and I think that’s the one thing that started to happen at the end when things started to get tough, and we weren’t playing well … We’re going to rely on those older guys — they’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. They’ve been through a 24-game win streak and a two-game losing streak. They’ve got to feed off those experiences they’ve had.”
Meyer said before practice started, he had placed an emphasis on recruiting linebackers, because of the inexperience of the unit.
“He’s concerned, but we’re going to take that as a challenge and stick together, and work together,” Grant said. “Just get in here and work on the stuff that we need to work on to get better.”
Whoever it is that is on the field when OSU kicks off its 2014 regular season Aug. 30 against Navy, they’re going to have their hands full.
OSU had the ninth ranked run defense in 2013, only allowing an average 109.4 yards per game, but is set to go up against the second-ranked Navy run offense, which ran for an average 325.4 yards per game.
The game is scheduled for noon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.