Coach: Luke Fickell (14th year at OSU)
2014 BSB Final Grade: B
As they did over the first half of the season, the Ohio State linebackers played as a cohesive unit down the stretch in 2014. While Joshua Perry did lead the team with 124 tackles from his Will linebacker position, the unit was more balanced than in 2013 when Ryan Shazier was the only consistent Buckeye linebacker.
Overall, Perry was a steadying force for the entire defense.
“He just always seems to be in the right place at the right time,” safety Tyvis Powell said. “Having him in front of me is a great feeling because I don’t really have to worry too much. He definitely is getting it done somehow, some way.”
With Shazier gone, Perry stepped into his role admirably, but the biggest reason the linebackers excelled this season and especially over the final nine games was the play of redshirt freshman Darron Lee. The former high school quarterback excelled as the Sam linebacker, developing into the Buckeyes’ most trusted blitzer this season.
Lee was one of five Ohio State freshman All-Americans and closed the season strong. After six tackles for loss during the first six games, Lee had 10½ over the final nine to go along with 5½ sacks in that span. Lee was the defensive MVP in the Sugar Bowl with two sacks and three TFL against Alabama.
“A spark,” Perry said when asked what Lee brought to the team. “He’s in the position he needs to be in a lot of the time, and when he’s not he’s got that ability to make it up. He gives us so much energy and we’re just really excited about him and how far he’s come.”
The play of Lee coincided with the best season of middle linebacker Curtis Grant’s career. The senior had a team-high 10 tackles against Alabama.
While the linebackers were steady all season, they deserve some of the blame for the strong rushing performances the team allowed against Michigan State, Minnesota and Indiana in the second half of the season.
- 69 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery at middle LB
37 Joshua Perry (6-4, 252, Sr.)
- 124 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble at weakside LB
43 Darron Lee (6-2, 228, Soph.)
- 81 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries (both returned for touchdowns), 1 forced fumble at walkout LB
55 Camren Williams (6-1, 231, Sr.)
- 10 tackles, 0.5 TFL at weakside LB
5 Raekwon McMillan (6-2, 240, Soph.)
- 54 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception returned for TD at middle LB
35 Chris Worley (6-2, 222, Soph.)
- 11 tackles at walkout LB
33 Dante Booker (6-2, 233, Soph.)
- 7 tackles at weakside LB
44 Kyle Berger (6-1, 229, R-Fr.)
- Redshirted in 2014 with knee injury
34 Nick Conner (6-3, 234, Fr.)
- Incoming four-star recruit
14 Curtis Grant (co-captain)
Depth, depth and more depth. Two starters – and two solid ones in Lee and Perry, a likely captain – return, and McMillan showed a year ago he can step in and be a playmaker in the middle. That means the Buckeyes need players who can step in in case an injury happens, and they will also need people who can make things happen on special teams. Booker got his feet wet there a year ago and it could be a spot for more young linebackers to make their mark, and Urban Meyer often mentions how young players can earn playing time by getting the job done in the kicking game. Continued steadiness out of walk-ons Craig Fada and Joe Burger, each of whom have been a key part of the team the past two years, would also be key.
Player On The Spot
McMillan. The freshman sensation from Georgia had an excellent start to his career but saw lesser time as the year went on and Grant finished strong. Now, the middle linebacker spot seemingly belongs to McMillan before he’s played a game as a sophomore, and his success as a youngster shows that likely won’t overwhelm him. Still, the Buckeyes need excellent linebacker player in the defense, which McMillan will be expected to provide. With potential All-Big Ten choices on either side of him, McMillan will have a chance to shine.
Spring Is A Success If…
At least one youngster other than McMillan steps up. Booker battled injuries last year, Worley was stuck behind Lee and Berger was out with a knee injury. It appears Berger will still rehab in the spring, and Nick Conner is young, but the Buckeyes will look for at least one player here to make a Lee-esque jump forward just to make sure the depth at this position is ready to go come the fall.
Spring Is A Failure If…
The Buckeyes don’t add depth here. This is a refrain from just about every other spot on the field, as we’ve said a few times, but it really is striking just how almost every reserve on this team at all spots is a very young but talented player now getting his first chance for extended action. It’s no different here, where guys like McMillan, Worley and Booker have loads of talent but will be tasked with keeping the growth in their game alive.