The Replacements: Linebacker

With Ohio State spring practice ready to begin next week, positions will be up for grabs -- especially those with a hole left by a departed senior. That's the case at one of the starting linebacker spots after Andrew Sweat finished second on the team in tackles in 2011. Ryan Shazier leads the cast vying to step in.

The position: Linebacker

The guy leaving: Andrew Sweat

His credentials: Sweat came to Ohio State as a four-star linebacker out of Washington, Pa., and lived up to the billing by providing the Buckeyes with four solid, gritty seasons while donning the scarlet and gray.

Though he was outshone in the recruiting rankings by five-star MLB prospect Etienne Sabino, Sweat made an immediate impact much like the Miami native, as the two were special teamers for their first two seasons. Sweat notched five tackles, including two in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas, as a freshman in 2008 and then 15 a year later. While backing up Ross Homan at the weakside spot in 2009, Sweat also earned his first career interception against Toledo, had a sack and five tackles when Homan was injured vs. Illinois and forced a fumble against Indiana.

In 2010, Sweat was promoted to the starting lineup alongside Homan and Brian Rolle, though he was a bit out of position at the Sam spot. Still, Sweat posted 41 tackles, three for loss, while making a key interception at Wisconsin and forcing a fumble vs. Purdue. He also made eight tackles in a huge win at Iowa, and his performance vs. Purdue on homecoming earned him the SAE outstanding player of the game honor at the end of the year.

Finally, Sweat moved back to Will in 2011 and started 11 games, though he missed the last two contests of the regular season – including the Michigan game – with head and arm injuries. He finished second on the team with 72 tackles, five tackles for loss and another interception and was the Buckeyes' most dependable linebacker throughout the campaign. At the end of the year, he was named as one of the team's four permanent captains.

The Contenders
Ryan Shazier, Soph. 6-2, 226
The Case For: Shazier spent last year as Sweat's backup and was impressive to say the least. After shining on special teams duty, he stepped up when Sweat was hurt near the end of the year, battling through his own injury and making 15 tackles in his first start vs. Penn State. He finished his freshman year sixth on the team with 57 tackles with three sacks and two forced fumbles. His athleticism and play-making ability are undeniable.

The Case Against: Shazier looked a bit raw last year at times, as opposing players were able to exploit his youth and aggressiveness to get him out of position. That should come with experience, but it's a still a concern.

Etienne Sabino, Sr. 6-3, 237
The Case For: Sabino has experience, as the one-time five-star prospect is now in his fifth year in the Ohio State program. He redshirted as a junior to learn the middle linebacker spot, which isn't all that different from the Will position in most defenses, and with Luke Fickell sticking around to work with the defense, he'll likely have the system down. Sabino laid some big hits in the Gator Bowl and got better as his junior campaign went, and he said he's lost some weight this offseason in an effort to get quicker.

The Case Against: Sabino will definitely play a lot, but Will might not be much of an option. He's valuable at both Mike and occasionally at Sam, so a move seems out of the question. Sabino seemed to outgrow the "thinking too much" label that affected him early in his career last season but still struggled with consistency at times.

Storm Klein, Sr. 6-2, 242
The Case For: Klein is one of the most experienced linebackers on the team. He split the middle spot with Sabino much of last season, finishing with 45 tackles to go with an interception and a forced fumble. Moving either Klein or Sabino to Will from Mike would allow Ohio State to get its two most experienced linebackers on the field.

The Case Against: Klein doesn't appear to have top-end speed, one reason he split time a season ago and one why he might not be best suited to be on the field at the same time as Sabino. He also hasn't been an "impact" player in his time; instead of making plays, he's been more of the type to just get his job done. An Ohio State team that struggled to force turnovers last year might opt for someone more like Shazier in that case.

Curtis Grant, Soph. 6-3, 235
The Case For: Grant came to Ohio State as a five-star prospect with great potential, boasting both excellent speed and athleticism. He reportedly started to pick up what he needed to do mentally as the season went on and could be a candidate to be a breakout player if that is the case.

The Case Against: Even on special teams duty, he didn't make much of an impact a season ago, posting two tackles in 10 games while performing some special teams duty. The knock defensively was that he thought too much rather than simply reacting, a problem it took Sabino years to get over.

Joshua Perry, Fr. 6-4, 231
The Case For: Perry enrolled early, graduating from Lewis Center (Ohio) Olentangy early to join Ohio State in January in an effort to begin learning the defense and to adjust to the all-important strength and conditioning program implemented this offseason. He is the type of player who gets it done both on the field and in the classroom, and no one will ever short his work ethic. In other words, he's the kind of guy who could excel early enough to see playing time.

The Case Against: Inexperience would be the obvious place to start, as Perry hasn't been on the Ohio State team for a down of football yet. While most people don't doubt the athletic abilities he'll bring to the table, Perry must prove he's deserving of a spot – especially on the mental side – at the college level. Scout lists one prep weakness as his inability to shed blocks, which is key against college O-linemen.

Camren Williams, Fr. 6-2, 215
The Case For: A late addition to the Ohio State recruiting class, Williams was one of the most sought-after linebackers in the country. The four-star prospect figures to have a chance to make an early impact after making 119 tackles last year for West Roxbury (Mass.) Catholic Memorial. His father, Brent, had an 11-year NFL career, and Williams is football-savvy beyond his years.

The Case Against: Inexperience, as he will be behind even Perry in this regard with Perry entering OSU earlier. He'll have some stalwarts ahead of him as well and will likely need to put on a few pounds.

David Perkins, Fr. 6-2, 220
The Case For: Perkins comes to Ohio State as a polished athlete who can dip into the 4.4s in the 40-yard dash. He showed the ability to make plays as a senior in high school at South Bend (Ind.) Washington, racking up eight forced fumbles, 22 TFL and seven sacks – the kind of ability Ohio State was missing a season ago.

The Case Against: Obviously, being a freshman will mean there's a learning curve, and Perkins still needs to fill out a bit. Scout also lists instincts as an issue, which could mean a redshirt is in order.

The likely outcome: It's probably easiest on everyone if Shazier steps up and uses his 2011 experience to become a well-rounded player – one more in control – while on the field, and there's a good chance that will happen. If so, it allows the Buckeyes to lean on Sabino and Klein to play the other spots while the team's youngsters mature at their own rate. However, don't be surprised if the Buckeyes do give one of those youngsters playing time – it happened with Shazier a year ago, and this coaching staff will put the best players on the field.

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