Freshman Linebackers Already Turning Heads

The Ohio State football team needed to find depth at linebacker in the class of 2012, and if early returns are any indication, the Buckeyes have put together an impressive group. A number of first-year linebackers are doing their best to get into the two-deep.

A dearth of depth at the linebacker position was a pretty good pitch to get Jamal Marcus, David Perkins, Joshua Perry, Luke Roberts and Camren Williams to join Ohio State's 2012 recruiting class.

"That was the recruiting pitch, that they needed linebackers and you can come in and compete, make the next guy better, and that's what I came in here to do," Perkins said.

It's safe to say that group that includes three four-star players (Perry, Williams and Perkins) and a pair of three-star gets in Marcus and Roberts has lived up to the hype so far.

With only starting strongside linebacker Etienne Sabino and reserve walk-on Stewart Smith boasting upperclassman status in Luke Fickell's position room, a number of those freshmen have had to work into the rotation early in their college careers. The talent those players possess seems undeniable, setting up what could be another great run at what has been an iconic position in Columbus.

"I think we say that just about every single day," Perry said. "We're really excited. You gotta take it one practice at a time. We have to get through this year, but after that, the sky is the limit for the linebackers we have here."

It's too early to say that group will include players who will be looked at like Chris Spielman, Pepper Johnson, Randy Gradishar, Andy Katzenmoyer, A.J. Hawk and James Laurinaitis – legends all either at the pro or college level – but the group does have potential.

Marcus and Perkins have been two players highlighted during camp by the coaching staff because of their hard-charging instincts. While neither have exactly figured out where they're going 100 percent of the time – think Ryan Shazier a year ago during his high-impact but inconsistent time at linebacker – their aggressive attitude has impressed observers, and Fickell has maintained he'd rather have to try to teach a player how to control himself than have to teach him how to go hard.

That's the attitude his newest charges have embraced.

"I fly to the ball," said the ever-confident Perkins. "I see ball, get ball, and I come hard. I bring the wood. They tell us what they want. If you bring it, you play, but just give them what they ask for."

Yet it was Williams and Roberts who found themselves on the second team when camp opened, though some of that was a function of circumstance. Williams was moved up to the No. 2 unit because starting middle linebacker Curtis Grant was at home with his ailing grandfather, while Roberts came in during spring and earned valuable experience at the strongside spot.

Add in Perry, who also came in for spring and was on the No. 2 unit this spring and fall when healthy, and each first-year linebacker has something on which to hang his hat when it comes to a fall impact. That was bound to happen given the lack of depth overall at the spot.

"It definitely leaves the door open for young guys," Fickell said. "I think those guys came in and that's what they're excited about. I think that's what creates some excitement. The key is trying to keep them motivated, and it also pushes those guys whom might be having that opportunity in that situation, too."

Among the young players, Perkins and Marcus – who is learning Sam after playing as a stand-up end in high school – have impressed with their aggressiveness, while Williams said he fashions himself as a complete player who can serve as a quarterback of the defense. Roberts brings toughness to the group while Perry stands an impressive 6-4 and brings size and athleticism.

Still, there's no guarantee that will work out for the best. Ohio State looked loaded for bear for years to come at linebacker in 2009 when Dorian Bell, Jonathan Newsome, Jordan Whiting and Storm Klein were true freshmen and David Durham, Jamel Turner and Scott McVey were slated to be coming in right behind.

None of those players, of course, would reach their senior seasons at Ohio State for a variety of reasons, none of them particularly positive. In other words, precedent has been set that potential doesn't necessarily equal production going forward.

The Buckeyes will try to avoid that fate with their newest class of high-quality linebackers.

"We have a lot of talent, a lot of skills and Coach Fickell is one of the best linebackers coaches in the country," Williams said. "I'm interesting to see what he can do with us. It's exciting to see what the future holds for us."


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