Buckeyes Looking To Put Best Backers Forward

Ohio State always strives to put the best three linebackers on the field, and the 2010 season should be no exception. With two returning starters, several prospects are left to battle for the final starting spot. Led by former five-star recruit Etienne Sabino, OSU linebackers coach Luke Fickell should have little problem finding qualified candidates.

Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell wants to end the spring with at least six players who could see time on the field during the 2010 season.

That should not be a problem. The problem is that there are only three starting spots and two are already taken by returning starters.

Anchored by Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, the linebacker corps are deep once again. The two seniors will man the weakside (Will) and middle (Mike) linebacker positions with several candidates battling for the third spot on the strongside (Sam), led by junior Etienne Sabino. Junior Andrew Sweat, sophomore Storm Klein, sophomore Jonathan Newsome and redshirt freshman Dorian Bell also hope to push for playing time this fall.

"We're going to play the best three linebackers," Fickell said. "That's how we've always done it."

Sabino, a former five-star recruit from Florida, arrived at Ohio State with plenty of promise but has spent the majority of his first two seasons on special teams with the occasional spot appearance at linebacker. One thing that sidetracked Sabino's progress - other than the talented players ahead of him - was how he approached the game. On several occasions last season, coaches and teammates said Sabino needed to rely on his instincts more and play less mechanically. The 19-year-old junior has apparently gotten the message. Sabino has been the No. 1 Sam linebacker in most drills when the media has been present.

"I think this has been his best spring so far, but we're only five practices in," Fickell said.

Fickell has seen a change in Sabino, who had been often called one of the most studious linebackers when it came to breaking down film.

"It's no longer where he has to see it, then process it, then go," Fickell said. "It's just seeing it and go. That's probably the biggest (difference)."

Sabino is the third linebacker for now, but another junior could be lurking come the fall. Sweat is currently sporting a limited contact yellow jersey during spring workouts but appears to be getting close to 100 percent only 5½ months after ACL surgery.

"If he was in there, it'd be interesting to see who our best three guys were," said Fickell, who added that Sweat is "a month away from being full-go."

"He's definitely going to be in the mix and at any position," Fickell added. "He can play any of the three."

There is little question or concern about Homan and Rolle. Homan, who will be a fifth-year senior this fall, led the Buckeyes with 108 tackles in 2009, his second season as the starting Will linebacker. He added a team-high 12 tackles in the Rose Bowl victory against Oregon and also led the OSU defense with five interceptions.

Homan is usually soft-spoken but the Coldwater, Ohio, product said he wants to be more of a vocal presence in 2010.

"It's my senior year, and I've really got to tell the young guys what they're doing well and what they're doing wrong. It's part of taking a senior leadership role. The coaches expect it of you so I do it."

Being vocal isn't a problem for the player standing at his side in the base defense. Rolle finished behind only Homan with 95 tackles and added 7.0 tackles for a loss with an interception and fumble recovery. The 5-11, 221-pounder isn't the biggest linebacker on the field by far, but he emerged as an emotional leader last season.

Rolle gave himself an average grade for his 2009 performance.

"I feel like I could so much better," Rolle said. "I'm tough on myself. A lot of people would say it was a good year for a first year starter, but that's not good enough for me."

Several young athletes and a handful of veterans make up the rest of the unit. The second group of linebackers have been made up of junior walk-on Tony Jackson, Klein and Bell. Newsome was supposed to be one of the players pushing for a possible starting spot, but he is reportedly battling eligibility issues. Sophomore Jordan Whiting and walk-ons Jim Hastings and Dan Bain make up the rest of the unit this spring.

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