Competition Name Of Game For Young LBs

Luke Fickell has a challenge on his hands after losing two three-year stars at linebacker in Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis. At his disposal are a number of young players, including four freshmen, two of whom are getting a jump in spring ball. Those Buckeyes could see time early because competition will be in the air.

If there ever was a year that Luke Fickell might want to see most of his future protégés enroll early at Ohio State, this might be the one.

The Buckeye linebackers coach has to coach up a green unit that will be replacing two three-year starters in James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, so why not bring the newest group of Buckeyes in to join the learning?

Luckily enough, then, for Fickell, linebackers Storm Klein and Zach Boren are already at Ohio State, though Boren will be kept out of spring contact drills because of a knee he is rehabbing. In addition, early enrollee Adam Homan probably will start at fullback but can play linebacker as well.

"I think that it's always nice," Fickell said. "They give up some things to come in early, but the chance to get out here and get a little bit of depth, with us losing some guys they'll get a lot of reps and have a lot more chances."

Experience certainly will be lacking at the linebacker spot in 2009. Next year's roster of linebackers figures to contain just one senior in Austin Spitler and combined for just six career starts – 14 if you count Jermale Hines and Tyler Moeller, who were hybrid linebackers/defensive backs playing the "star" position in 2008.

The Buckeyes figure to enter the season with nine players on the roster who can be listed as fulltime linebackers. Five are returning players in Spitler, returning weakside starter Ross Homan, Brian Rolle, Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat. Those players will be joined by Klein, Boren, Jordan Whiting and Dorian Bell.

With so much youth at the position, the Buckeyes will have to start their spring practices a little less advanced in past years; think algebra instead of calculus.

"I think we'll slow it down a little bit just because we have a lot of new guys," Fickell said. "I think it will be a better situation for all of those younger guys."

As the only healthy new Buckeye who figures to rep exclusively at linebacker, Klein would figure to have the chance to grow the most. He's already been a star in central Ohio over the past few years after leading Newark Licking Valley to the state title game as a junior and adding 48 tackles and two sacks as a senior while earning four-star recognition from

"Obviously I want to play," Klein said. "However I can get on the field. If there are two open spots, put me down on one of them. That's kind of how I'm looking at it."

According to Fickell, he could have that chance simply because of the nature of the linebacking position.

"If they can find the football, it's not a difficult position," Fickell said. "All of the other little things will come. That's the thing that's always interesting about spring ball. You're not doing as many things, you're not game-planning, you're not trying to get ready for a game, per se. You allow them a little bit to be themselves and do what they've done to get themselves here. I think it's a good acclimating period to figure out what they do can do."

Boren, who made 192 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and eight forced fumbles as a senior in 2008 for Pickerington (Ohio) Central, will get the chance to learn under Fickell in drills without taking part in contact practices.

That duo will be joined by Bell, the only five-star newcomer at the position, and Whiting in the summer.

Whiting, the first person to commit to the class, won four state titles at Louisville (Ky.) Trinity. As a senior, he picked up 102 tackles and 18 TFL.

Bell's work at Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway has some observers thinking he'll be in the running for a starting spot after he made 113 stops, 19 TFL, seven sacks and forced four fumbles. That work earned rave reviews from Fickell, who noted that Bell has the most important skill necessary for a young linebacker.

"Ever since his sophomore year, he's a very athletic football player, a great blitzer from what you see on film," Fickell said. "You watch him as a sophomore in high school on film, he might not have had a clue what he was doing, but where the ball was, he is.

"Those are the things that show up. Yes, he'll hit you. Yes, he can run. But the little instinctual things are what you kind of see on film and you say, 'Well I hope that all of those things hold true.' "

Fickell declined to say which player he sees as starters once the spring begins.

"We're going to roll guys through," Fickell said. "Just because Homan's played Will and Spitler's played Mike doesn't mean that they're not going to play different positions in the spring. We're going to find any way we can we to get the best guys on the field."

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