Buckeye LB Granted A Fresh Start

It's fair to say Curtis Grant didn't have the freshman season he expected last season at Ohio State, but the linebacker did his best to show this spring that he wants to be an impact player in 2012. Teammates and coaches definitely noticed the progress in the one-time five-star recruit.

When Curtis Grant chose to attend Ohio State to play his college football on National Signing Day in February 2011, it was a joyous day for the five-star prospect – and for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes were getting the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country when he put pen to paper and the No. 19 overall player in the country. Grant, meanwhile, was getting a program that prided itself on turning out NFL linebackers almost each and every year.

Of course, a funny thing happened on the way to the college football version of marital bliss. Head coach Jim Tressel was fired in May, linebackers coach Luke Fickell became interim head coach, the Buckeyes struggled to a dysfunctional 6-7 season and Grant was passed up in the rotation on a struggling unit by classmate Ryan Shazier.

All in all, despite recovering a blocked punt in the home upset win against Wisconsin, it just wasn't a great season for a player upon so many hopes had been placed, and those around him noticed.

"Me and Curtis are real close," Shazier said. "At first it was tough for him, but then he handled it a lot better. We talked a lot."

The biggest problem? Grant was having troubles acclimating to the college game. No one ever doubted his talent – after all, he was given prep All-America status by just about everyone who awards such things upon making 134 tackles and starring in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a senior – but adjusting to the speed of the college game and picking up the playbook just didn't come quickly.

Similar problems affected current senior Etienne Sabino during the first few years of his career, and Sabino was sure to talk to Grant about the situation as he struggled to just two tackles in 10 games.

"I spoke to him about it, but you just get the feel of it," Sabino said. "You just have to get comfortable in what you're doing so you can play it fast and be aggressive."

Shazier also did his best to help his friend come along in his progress.

"We've worked the whole offseason and he'll do what he can," Shazier said. "The thing was he just didn't get the playbook. The more you know the playbook, the slower the game gets. He didn't know the plays at the time."

The early returns in spring showed Grant was getting better. With Storm Klein, who played in all 13 games last year and made 45 tackles, mostly as a middle linebacker splitting time with Sabino, sidelined for most of spring with an injury, Grant was elevated to the top unit and didn't look out of place.

Though he missed his own time with injury near the end of camp thanks to a stinger suffered April 14 at the team's open fan practice, Grant – who was not available for interviews this spring – impressed those around him when he was on the field.

"He's getting a lot better," Sabino said. "It's crazy how good he gets day to day. He keeps improving. I'm excited to see what he can do. He's a big, physical kid. He can run pretty well for his size. When you have that combination, it's going to be tough for offenses to scheme him up and block him."

Added Shazier: "I'm really excited about him right now because he's doing his thing right now. He's trying to make a good impression, like everybody else is. I think he's doing a good job."

Another thing that should help is that Grant has shed some weight from a season ago. Though he was listed at 225 when he signed out of Richmond (Va.) Hermitage, he had bulked up to around 245 pounds a season ago. This spring, he was listed at 235 pounds, and Fickell said his attention to detail with his body has been one of the signs things are starting to come together for Grant.

"I think it's showing in everything that he does – the way he studies, the way he takes care of his body," Fickell said. "The best thing I can say about it is he wants to (improve). He's acting like a professional in a lot of the things we ask him to do. He's studying. Now it's just got to translate onto the field. I think he's building some confidence to allow that to happen."

Time will tell how Grant will fit into a linebacker rotation that still includes Sabino, Shazier and Klein along with a rejuvenated Conner Crowell and incoming freshmen Luke Roberts, Joshua Perry, Jamal Marcus, David Perkins and Camren Williams.

However, those on the team are happy to see how the strides Grant made in the offseason to become a contibutor.

"He wasn't enjoying football, not very confident and not playing fast," head coach Urban Meyer said after getting a briefing on Grant's first season at OSU. "He had an excellent offseason and he's a guy who has to play well for us. He'll be fine."

At least, the head coach hopes so if the Buckeyes want to have a successful 2012 campaign.

"We have no choice," Meyer said. "He has to be able to play for us. If he's not, we have a problem."

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