Captain's Corner - Evaluating The Linebackers

The one area of this year's Ohio State team where the reviews have been unianimously positive has been the linebackers. This year's linebacking corps is the strength of the defense, if not the entire team. In today's Captain's Corner, 1998 OSU captain Jerry Rudzinski -- a linebacker himself -- takes a quick look at the linebackers, with the focus on one linebacker in particular. Read on for more.

There's been a lot of chatter about the linebackers this year. There should be a lot of chatter. What a group. Schlegel and D'Andrea should be dominant. They have talent. They've been through some up's and down's, which often builds character. They are fighting through some injuries and will be ready to go next August. Marcus Freeman is being touted as the "next great OSU linebacker." His speed should set him apart. Chad Hoobler looked great all spring. He runs and plays athletic and it doesn't hurt that he plays with an attitude. I see Bobby Carpenter as an early round pick in next year's draft. The bottom line is that the Buckeyes have outstanding linebackers.

Then there's Hawk. I remember watching A.J. when he was a sophomore at Centerville. I thought to myself, "If he plateaus and levels off and doesn't get any better, he's still good enough to play at Ohio State." Well, he didn't level off or plateau. He got much, much better.

If Hawk stays healthy, he will win the Butkus. A.J. has the supporting cast. He has the preseason hype. He has the national television audience throughout the fall. If he stays healthy, he brings back the hardware as the best linebacker in college football.

If you think I am just pumping him up because he comes from my hometown of Centerville, you are probably partially right. I am a big fan. However, there are a few reasons he gets the hype…

· Passion for the game. Many players feel like they are running windsprints for the coaches. A.J. realizes he is running them for himself.

· He finishes. Great practice habits lead to great game habits. He goes 100 mph at all times and finishes every play. Watch A.J. this year; he finishes plays better than anyone.

· Athleticism. He has great leg strength. He has great speed. Yet, he is not a robot. Look at his pick in the Michigan State game.

Keep in mind, OSU's other linebackers bring much of the same to the table, especially Carpenter. This should be a special year for the LB's. Coach Fickell has it made in 2005.

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