Fickell Working With Next Wave Of Linebackers

Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell met with the media on Thursday. He shared some of his thoughts on where things stand within the linebacker corps. Marcus Freeman, James Laurinaitis and John Kerr are penciled in as the starters right now. But Fickell said those guys have plenty of competition this spring.

The 2006 season will represent quite a change for Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell. He will go from coaching a veteran group with two All-Americans and a battle tested fifth-year senior to working with a collection of guys with only a smattering of college experience.

But that's the way life goes for Fickell, who must replace the highly regarded starting threesome of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel.

"It's always a challenge," Fickell said. "It's a challenge because we have some new faces and some new guys. I think you have to start over just with the stuff you're teaching. It is a very excited group because it is a young group and they see some light at the end of the tunnel.

"I think we could be very deep at linebacker. I really like the situation right now. We think like we have a lot of young kids who are going to run around and play hard. They just have to get some experience. That's what you like to see."

Fickell has no fewer than eight scholarship linebackers in spring practice as well as former Indiana starter John Kerr, who must pay his own way as an intraconference transfer.

"We feel good with our numbers," Fickell said. "I think we have seven guys who could possibly start from day one. We need to see how they progress over the rest of the summer and through fall camp. We feel that way about the whole defense, really. We see all of these guys leave, and they're not taking it as a negative.

"It's a very exciting group to coach … because so many of them see a light at the end of the tunnel. As hard as it is and as much as we preach to them that, ‘Hey, you're one play away from starting,' it's hard to have that enthusiasm sometimes. That's what we're seeing right now."

Fickell was asked about the difficulty of stepping into the shoes of such highly regarded linebackers as Hawk, Carpenter and Schlegel.

"Most of the guys were here with them," he said. "I don't think you ever try to fill their shoes or anything like that. You have to be who you are. That's what I stress to them. We'll take what they do best and go with it. We're not set in what we do. There may be some things we would do with A.J. Hawk or Bobby Carpenter or Anthony Schlegel that we may not do with these guys. We'll work on what they do best."

As things stand, OSU lists sophomores Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis as the starters outside with Kerr, a senior, in the middle. Kerr started one season at Indiana. Freeman played sparingly as a freshman in 2004 and missed all but one game of last year due to a staph infection. Laurinaitis saw late season action and played quite a bit in the last two games after an injury to Carpenter.

"There are some guys who have played a little and there are some guys with some ability that you don't know about," Fickell said. "You take a guy like (JUCO transfer) Larry Grant, who has played in some big situations at the junior college level. Or you have John Kerr, who started in the Big Ten. Marcus Freeman, at the start of last season, we thought he would play a lot when we went to four linebackers because of what he could do.

"There is some experience and some maturity. That's what we really need to thrive on."

Behind the three starters, Fickell listed Grant, junior Curtis Terry and early enrolling freshman Ross Homan. as the backups. And he still had the possibility that fifth-year senior Mike D'Andrea could solve his knee problems – he is not practicing this spring as a precaution. Redshirt freshman Austin Spitler and junior Chad Hoobler were also in the running for playing time.

Fickell sounded like a coach that may solve his problem by rotating linebackers in the fall.

"You roll defensive linemen and you roll DBs in because you play nickel and dime," he said. "To what extent can you roll linebackers? I don't know, but if there was ever a time this might be the time to do it. You have to find out who is playing well and who really steps up in the fall."

Here are Fickell's comments on a number of his linebacker candidates:

* On Kerr -- "John is a football player. I still think he is learning a lot of our system. We changed his position, and sometimes that is a little bit difficult. But that's football. You want these guys to be well rounded and understand everything that is going on. I think that will help him in the long run. We're looking for the guys who can play football and try to put them in the best position as possible.

"John is never going to stop running. He is always going to battle you. Those are the things a football coach is going to love. Those are the things that are his biggest attributes."

* On Freeman -- "Marcus is a smart kid. He is probably our most athletic kid. He runs as well as anybody. He's got all the tools as anybody. He knows the defense as well. He can really help some people out there.

"The year off helped him maturity-wise. It helped him to know he's got some time. The biggest thing, Marcus is a sophomore, but this will be his third year and he's almost like a senior because he came in early (in 2004). You're looking at a guy who is very mature and knows the system. He's got to take it and run with it."

* On Laurinaitis -- "James has always been self assured. He is a very confident kid and a very smart kid. He is the one guy I can honestly say that took his freshman year as well as anybody. He really and truly learned what we were doing, so when it was time for him to play there was no hesitation. He had studied and done all of his work.

"He can probably get them all lined up. He's a little bit like Schlegel was and knows the whole defense, no matter what position you put him at. He's like a natural born leader."

* On Homan -- "He's done a real good job. He's got a lot of learning to do. He's very natural at what he does. Even if he doesn't know the defense, he's very natural at finding the ball and doing the things we ask him to do. You would be amazed but of seven guys could start from day one.

"He has surprised me. You think every kid coming in is a ball player. That's why you recruit him. But he has surprised me with his instinctiveness. He is very instinctive. He may not know what the defense is right now, but for some reason he finds the ball."

* On Grant -- "Larry is battle tested. He's one of those guys you can look at his eyes and see that if you're going into Texas or somewhere else that's not going to bother him one bit."

* On Terry -- "Curtis is a kid who has had a great spring. He has been very consistent for us. We're hoping to keep that happening with him and have that in the fall. Curtis is very smart. He knows more about the defense than anybody with the exception of maybe James and Marcus. He knows it all."

* On D'Andrea -- "He deserves so much after what he has put in and the bad things that have happened to him. He just keeps a positive mind-set. We're hoping what he can do what he can here in the spring and that he has a role in the fall."


 

 



Buckeye Sports Top Stories

\r\n\r\n

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\r\n
\r\n \r\n","mobileBody":"The 2006 season will represent quite a change for Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell. He will go from coaching a veteran group with two All-Americans and a battle tested fifth-year senior to working with a collection of guys with only a smattering of college experience.

But that's the way life goes for Fickell, who must replace the highly regarded starting threesome of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel.

\"It's always a challenge,\" Fickell said. \"It's a challenge because we have some new faces and some new guys. I think you have to start over just with the stuff you're teaching. It is a very excited group because it is a young group and they see some light at the end of the tunnel.

\"I think we could be very deep at linebacker. I really like the situation right now. We think like we have a lot of young kids who are going to run around and play hard. They just have to get some experience. That's what you like to see.\"

Fickell has no fewer than eight scholarship linebackers in spring practice as well as former Indiana starter John Kerr, who must pay his own way as an intraconference transfer.

\"We feel good with our numbers,\" Fickell said. \"I think we have seven guys who could possibly start from day one. We need to see how they progress over the rest of the summer and through fall camp. We feel that way about the whole defense, really. We see all of these guys leave, and they're not taking it as a negative.

\"It's a very exciting group to coach … because so many of them see a light at the end of the tunnel. As hard as it is and as much as we preach to them that, ‘Hey, you're one play away from starting,' it's hard to have that enthusiasm sometimes. That's what we're seeing right now.\"

Fickell was asked about the difficulty of stepping into the shoes of such highly regarded linebackers as Hawk, Carpenter and Schlegel.

\"Most of the guys were here with them,\" he said. \"I don't think you ever try to fill their shoes or anything like that. You have to be who you are. That's what I stress to them. We'll take what they do best and go with it. We're not set in what we do. There may be some things we would do with A.J. Hawk or Bobby Carpenter or Anthony Schlegel that we may not do with these guys. We'll work on what they do best.\"

As things stand, OSU lists sophomores Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis as the starters outside with Kerr, a senior, in the middle. Kerr started one season at Indiana. Freeman played sparingly as a freshman in 2004 and missed all but one game of last year due to a staph infection. Laurinaitis saw late season action and played quite a bit in the last two games after an injury to Carpenter.

\"There are some guys who have played a little and there are some guys with some ability that you don't know about,\" Fickell said. \"You take a guy like (JUCO transfer) Larry Grant, who has played in some big situations at the junior college level. Or you have John Kerr, who started in the Big Ten. Marcus Freeman, at the start of last season, we thought he would play a lot when we went to four linebackers because of what he could do.

\"There is some experience and some maturity. That's what we really need to thrive on.\"

Behind the three starters, Fickell listed Grant, junior Curtis Terry and early enrolling freshman Ross Homan. as the backups. And he still had the possibility that fifth-year senior Mike D'Andrea could solve his knee problems – he is not practicing this spring as a precaution. Redshirt freshman Austin Spitler and junior Chad Hoobler were also in the running for playing time.

Fickell sounded like a coach that may solve his problem by rotating linebackers in the fall.

\"You roll defensive linemen and you roll DBs in because you play nickel and dime,\" he said. \"To what extent can you roll linebackers? I don't know, but if there was ever a time this might be the time to do it. You have to find out who is playing well and who really steps up in the fall.\"

Here are Fickell's comments on a number of his linebacker candidates:

\"John is a football player. I still think he is learning a lot of our system. We changed his position, and sometimes that is a little bit difficult. But that's football. You want these guys to be well rounded and understand everything that is going on. I think that will help him in the long run. We're looking for the guys who can play football and try to put them in the best position as possible.

\"John is never going to stop running. He is always going to battle you. Those are the things a football coach is going to love. Those are the things that are his biggest attributes.\"

\"Marcus is a smart kid. He is probably our most athletic kid. He runs as well as anybody. He's got all the tools as anybody. He knows the defense as well. He can really help some people out there.

\"The year off helped him maturity-wise. It helped him to know he's got some time. The biggest thing, Marcus is a sophomore, but this will be his third year and he's almost like a senior because he came in early (in 2004). You're looking at a guy who is very mature and knows the system. He's got to take it and run with it.\"

\"James has always been self assured. He is a very confident kid and a very smart kid. He is the one guy I can honestly say that took his freshman year as well as anybody. He really and truly learned what we were doing, so when it was time for him to play there was no hesitation. He had studied and done all of his work.

\"He can probably get them all lined up. He's a little bit like Schlegel was and knows the whole defense, no matter what position you put him at. He's like a natural born leader.\"

\"He's done a real good job. He's got a lot of learning to do. He's very natural at what he does. Even if he doesn't know the defense, he's very natural at finding the ball and doing the things we ask him to do. You would be amazed but of seven guys could start from day one.

\"He has surprised me. You think every kid coming in is a ball player. That's why you recruit him. But he has surprised me with his instinctiveness. He is very instinctive. He may not know what the defense is right now, but for some reason he finds the ball.\"

\"Larry is battle tested. He's one of those guys you can look at his eyes and see that if you're going into Texas or somewhere else that's not going to bother him one bit.\"

\"Curtis is a kid who has had a great spring. He has been very consistent for us. We're hoping to keep that happening with him and have that in the fall. Curtis is very smart. He knows more about the defense than anybody with the exception of maybe James and Marcus. He knows it all.\"

\"He deserves so much after what he has put in and the bad things that have happened to him. He just keeps a positive mind-set. We're hoping what he can do what he can here in the spring and that he has a role in the fall.\"

 

 

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