Perry, Williams Could Be Middle Men Too

Finding at least one linebacker who step into the starting lineup and make an impact is one of the top priorities for the Ohio State football team this spring. Curtis Grant is one of the top candidates for the job, but sophomores Camren Williams and Joshua Perry can't be ruled out.

One year ago, Camren Williams was a newly minted Buckeye signee finishing up his high school career in Massachusetts.

At the same time, Joshua Perry was already at Ohio State but was learning firsthand the work necessary to be a contributing member of the Buckeye football team.

What a difference a year makes.

Williams is now 10 pounds heavier and more mentally ready to take over a starting role if need be, while Perry has a better understanding of the defense as well.

As a result, both are in the running to take over the middle linebacker spot for the departed Zach Boren as the Buckeyes continue spring football this week.

"Last year you could definitely tell I was more timid because I had absolutely no idea," Perry said. "Now I'm playing Mike linebacker and I'm still learning, but now I know that's not the way you do it.

"You just go out there and if you run the wrong way, you run the wrong way, but if you go hard, they're not going to chew you out as hard as if you didn't. From last year, it's not so much confidence, but I know you just go and whatever happens, happens."

Perry and Williams both started spring practice working as middle linebackers as the team attempts to replace Boren, whose 50 tackles in the last six games helped solidify the defense after early struggles.

The Buckeyes used nickel sets quite extensively in the first practices open to reporters, and head coach Urban Meyer admitted the team will spend a lot of time with just two linebackers on the field given the team's 2013 schedule.

With returnee Ryan Shazier, who developed into perhaps the best linebacker in the Big Ten, returning to man the weakside linebacker spot, the middle job is the one that seems to be most up for grabs, with Curtis Grant joining Perry and Williams as the main entrants in the competition.

"It's going to be a committee," linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. "There's a bunch of guys. Until we put some pads on, who knows what we've really got? But I can tell you this: They're aggressive. They've worked as hard as I've seen anybody work."

While Grant hopes to cement his spot after coming in as the top-ranked outside linebacker in the class of 2011 and a five-star prospect, Perry and Williams had plenty of laurels of their own when they arrived at Ohio State.

Williams was a four-star outside linebacker at the conclusion of his prep career at West Roxbury (Mass.) Catholic Memorial, and his father, Brent, played in the NFL. But he arrived around 220 pounds, below where he wanted to be, and also had to figure out the defense on the fly.

The result was Williams finished with three tackles in 10 games while battling the occasional injury. He saw some time with the No. 1 defense but was more a special teams player at the start of his career.

Now, Williams is fine with the mental part of the game, which could be important as the middle man is known as the quarterback of the defense.

"I just have a better understanding of the scheme and the whole defense," he said. "I kind of just had an idea of what I was doing (last year). But they come into the spring and they reteach everything, so everything kind of clicks. I understand what the safeties are doing behind me and what the cornerbacks are doing outside of me and what the other linebackers are doing. I feel more in synch with the defense basically."

In addition, the strength and size put on in the weight room should help him get through an entire season.

"I feel like a linebacker out there," he said. "The winter is a huge part of toughness and strength building. I knew I needed to get faster. I knew I needed to get stronger. Through Coach (Mickey Marotti's) program, he's one of the best. I got a lot better."

Perry, meanwhile, came in with similar credentials as Williams – he was a four-star member of the 2012 class after becoming the first to commit – and finished with about the same statistics. Perry made five tackles in 10 games, including an assist tackle on a key third down in the Michigan game, and said that experience is key this time around.

"You can't put a value to being on the field," he said. "You get out there and it's a different atmosphere than being out here in practice. Most of our linebackers letters, and that's experience we can use."

Experience has also taught Perry the appeal of versatility, which he has embraced this offseason. Perry played strongside linebacker last year and is trying to nail down a spot at Mike this year, but he's also learning the weakside spot and even some "Star" this spring.

"I can play on the edge, I can play in the box, I can do a lot of things," he said. "I'm trying to come out here, show off what I have and be the best me I can, and I want to help the team. Whatever I can do to help the Buckeyes be the best we can be, then that's what I'm going to do."

No matter who ends up earning an open starting role, Perry thinks the Buckeyes will have someone ready to step on the field on Aug. 31.

"I think we're doing a pretty good job of the linebackers just getting in there, young guys and older guys, even without coaches and sitting down and drawing it up and talking to each other," he said.

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