Scarlet And Gray LBs Green Going Into Opener

Ohio State goes into the season with just one truly experienced linebacker in Ryan Shazier, something that has head coach Urban Meyer concerned before Saturday's clash with Buffalo. Meyer and position coach Luke Fickell will count on a number of inexperienced players, including middle man Curtis Grant, early in the campaign.

The most pressing issue for Ohio State as it prepares to open the 2013 football season Saturday against Buffalo in Ohio Stadium is the development of an inexperienced linebacker corps.

That should come as no surprise because head coach Urban Meyer consistently expressed throughout the fall camp a need to quickly develop a unit that has one legitimate stud in junior Ryan Shazier but a total of only six scholarship players, including freshmen Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson.

Exacerbating the problem is that the defensive line is green as well.

"The biggest concern right now is we have a lot of inexperience in the front seven and a lot of young guys," Shazier said. "When we get a lot of guys who haven't played together it's kind of a struggle."

Fortunately for defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell he can anchor the defense with Shazier, an All-Big Ten selection last season who made 115 tackles with 17 TFL, five sacks and three forced fumbles.

"He's become what I like to say is a linebacker," Fickell said. "You see him start making linebacker plays instead of just highlight-reel plays that he can make, the play that is we expect him to be able to do, doing his job and then obviously when the lights come on and the plays are there to be had, that's one guy that has shown that he can do it."

Shazier obviously will be the starting weakside linebacker while Fickell said Monday that underachieving junior Curtis Grant (18 career games with 10 total tackles) will be in the middle against Buffalo while sophomore Joshua Perry (10 games in 2012) will man the strong side.

"The area we still trying to solidify is linebacker," Meyer said at his weekly press conference five days before starting his second season at Ohio State. "Just because there's some young guys and then also Curtis Grant has not really played a whole lot of Mike linebacker. He's catching up quick. He missed a lot of practices because he got injured during training camp but he's going real hard and trying to catch up as fast as he can. That's the only one area that we are a little bit behind."

Grant was a five-star, can't-miss recruit from Richmond (Va.) Hermitage who started the first three games last season but dropped down the depth chart after that, coming off the bench in only five of the remaining nine games as the Buckeyes completed a 12-0 season.

He looked in good form during spring ball but suffered a concussion in early August and was limited in his participation for awhile. Fickell said if it was anybody but Grant he might have been concerned about the lack of practices during a critical time of the preseason.

"The reality is if that was a freshman that missed 10 or so days or 10 practices, you would be much more worried," he said. "I'm not worried about Curtis Grant because his passion and his energy is what's going to show.

"He started maybe three or four games last year at the beginning of the year so (the concussion) was a little bit of a setback, but the great thing about it is Curtis Grant has come a long way. And I don't mean just what he's done on the field, but his maturity and how he prepares and things like that. I don't think it's going to hinder him."

Mitchell, a Plano (Tex.) Prestonwood Christian product whose brother Mickey committed last week to the Ohio State basketball team for the class of 2015, and sophomore Joe Burger are expected to back up Grant.

How much action they see depends on Grant's play as well as the various schemes employed by Fickell, who plans to take advantage of a veteran bunch of defensive backs to mix it up.

"The thing that this crew is going to be able to bring us is the ability to have some versatility," Fickell said. "You might see a package with six DBs out there. You might see a package with two linebackers. You might see a package with one linebacker."

There's a lot to digest for the young linebackers and Shazier admitted he was feeling the pressure to be the take-charge guy among them, so much so that he's had several talks with the coaches on how to relieve the stress.

"Right now I want to be focusing on the team, focusing on the guys getting better and helping the linebacker group get better and that's been helping me feel better," he said.

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