Historically, Ohio State defenses — especially the linebackers — have lived up to their moniker.
But as of late, the “Silver Bullets” have been shooting blanks.
Even in August, the Buckeye linebackers were one of the biggest question marks on the team.
Senior Curtis Grant had plenty of talent — judging by his five-star rating coming out of high school — but he never seemed to put it all together in Columbus. To an extent, the same could be said for junior Joshua Perry, who racked up just 69 tackles through his first two years with the Buckeyes.
And then there was redshirt-freshman Darron Lee, who still looked more like the high school quarterback he was than the elite linebacker he is today.
But just before the season Grant was named a team captain — which came as a surprise to some — and Perry and Lee had locked up starting spots. Lee made his mark early on with a key touchdown off a fumble recovery against Navy, but the Buckeye defense still struggled through the season’s first two weeks.
And that struggle, combined with a poor day from the OSU offense, led to a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in the second game of the year.
The next week, against Kent State, the defense pitched its first shutout of the season as a new linebacker — freshman Raekwon McMillan — burst onto the scene with a team-high seven total tackles and two sacks.
But over the next nine weeks, the Buckeyes gave up at least 24 points seven times.
Those high-scoring outputs seemed to be a bad omen going into the Big Ten Championship Game, but OSU — which was led in tackles by Lee — shut out a top-15 opponent as it beat Wisconsin, 59-0.
Then Lee was named the defensive player of the game against Alabama, and the Buckeyes shut down Marcus Mariota in the title game, beating Oregon, 42-20.
Now even with Grant departing, it’s clear that the “Silver Bullets” are making their return, and the linebackers will be the first ones out of the chamber in 2015.
Look no further than Lee’s upper arm — where he has a fresh “Silver Bullets” tattoo, according to an Instagram post — to see that the linebackers have embraced a new mindset.
They’ll be backing one of the best lines around once again next season, but led by Perry, who had 124 total tackles last season, Lee, who had 7.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in his first year playing linebacker full time, and McMillan, who showcased a skillset that could make him one of the nation’s best next season, the linebackers might prove to be the best position unit on the team.
So much for question marks.