As more and more national college football previews begin to filter out, we've learned that Ohio State is a consensus top 15 team and that the
Buckeyes' linebacking corps will be one of the weakest in the Big Ten. In my selective and biased judgment, I completely agree with the top 15
rankings and completely disagree with the criticism of the linebackers. But in fairness to these scribes, it is easy to see why the Buckeye 'backers
aren't getting any national respect.
Looking at it on paper, you have a starting middle linebacker who's coming off ankle surgery, one starting outside linebacker who played cornerback last year and another starting OLB who's never started a game in college.
OK, so on paper things aren't looking good.
But in reality, the OSU linebackers have the chance to be a very good unit on what could be the Big Ten's best defense. Matt Wilhelm (6-5, 245, Sr.) is a born leader and an all-Big Ten candidate, Cie Grant (6-1, 220, Sr.) is a hard-hitter who won't be playing out of position for a change and Rob Reynolds (6-3, 230, Jr.) is an up-and-coming star.
Wilhelm will be entering his third year as a starter and the guess here is that he and Mike Doss (5-11, 203, Sr.) will be the defensive captains [the offensive captains are a little harder to peg, but I'm thinking Chris Vance (6-2, 180, Sr.) and Craig Krenzel (6-4, 215, Jr.)]. Wilhelm has been a good run stuffer since the moment he arrived on campus, but has struggled at times in pass protection. However, last year, he improved quite a bit against the pass. Remember that bone-crushing hit on
Marquise Walker in the Michigan game?
When Wilhelm is right, he is simply one of the most talented linebackers in the nation. He has great speed -— something he couldn't showcase last year due to the ankle injury —- great size, and is tough just like another OSU linebacker who wore the No. 35 jersey.
So how is the ankle coming along?
"Matt's progressed very well with his ankle," OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio said. "He missed the majority of the spring, but we had him up in the box in scrimmage days just to give him a feel for things up there. Mentally, Matt was great this spring. He met with coach (Mark) Snyder daily and did a great job helping out in meetings. Right now, he's working out and doing everything that the team is doing."
Grant came to OSU as a safety, then was moved to linebacker, then was moved to corner and was finally moved back to linebacker this spring. In high school (New Philadelphia), he was an all-state quarterback/strong safety who finished his career with 2,357 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. In my opinion, he will be an upgrade from the departed Courtland Bullard. Grant is just as fast as Bullard and is a better tackler. Also, his cornerback "experiment" will make him more effective in passing situations. Bullard always struggled against the pass.
Reynolds played mostly on special teams his first two years, but when he did get a chance at linebacker, he always played well. Now, with the graduation of the always steady Joe Cooper, Reynolds finally gets his chance to start. Reynolds, nicknamed "Turbo" by his Buckeye teammates, was an All-American at Bowling Green (Ky.) High School and was also his state's player of the year as a senior. Will he be an upgrade over Cooper? That's hard to say. Cooper was a very good and highly underrated player, but Reynolds is bigger and faster.
As for the backup 'backers, Pat O'Neill (6-3, 230, Jr.), Jason Bond (6-3, 243, Jr.) and Fred Pagac, Jr. (6-1, 225, Jr.) are the second-teamers as of now, but you have to think that at least one or two of the incoming freshmen will crack the two-deep.
INTRODUCING THE BUCKNUTS 10 (Which like the Big Ten, actually has 11)
One of the ideas we're kicking around for the magazine, is to have Buckeye players answer the "Bucknuts 10" questions. It's kind of cheesy, but should elicit some interesting responses. Krenzel and wide receiver Drew Carter were kind enough to act as guinea pigs.
1) Favorite Buckeye tradition?
Krenzel: Pecan rolls on Friday nights
Carter: Tunnel of Pride for Michigan home games
2) Largest figure in OSU football history?
Krenzel: Joe Germaine
Carter: Eddie George
3) Strangest thing an OSU fan asked you to autograph?
4) Favorite NFL team?
5) Favorite pro sports team not including football?
Krenzel: Red Wings
Carter: LA Clippers
6) If you could go on a date with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Krenzel: Faith Hill
Carter: Jennifer Lopez or Alicia Keys
7) If you could go on a free two-week vacation anywhere in the world, where
would you go?
Krenzel: St. Andrews
Carter: Australia or somewhere in South America
8) Favorite type of music/favorite musician?
Krenzel: Country/Billy Joel
Carter: Hip-hop/Busta Rhymes
9) Favorite food?
Carter: Spaghetti and meat balls
10) Favorite hobby?
Carter: Video games, hanging by the pool
11) Favorite movie and/or television show?
Krenzel: Shawshank Redemption/Seinfeld
Carter: Dumb and Dumber/Bernie Mac Show; Everybody Loves Raymond
NICKEY ON DOSS' RETURN
All Buckeye fans were thrilled when Doss decided to return for his senior year. But who was happier than anyone else? It might have been Doss' running mate at safety, Donnie Nickey (6-3, 215, Sr.). "Him coming back is key," Nickey said. "The focus is going to be on him all the time. If they think he's going to blitz, that opens up my blitzing lanes. He's a great player and just having him back there helps me make plays too."
Check back next week for another edition of "Bucknotes." You can e-mail Dave Biddle at email@example.com