Sabino, Sweat Vying For Playing Time

One starting linebacker position is open at Ohio State this preseason, and assistant coach Luke Fickell says Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat both figure to get chances to fill it.

Luke Fickell insisted Sunday the battle between Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat to earn the right to claim the lone open starting position at linebacker will continue during camp.

"Those are the two guys that jump out at you right away because of the experience, the things they've done," Ohio State's linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator said. "We're still going to wait and see. We'll put guys in different places and situations just like (2008) when Marcus Freeman had to shift around for us to find a spot for Ross Homan because he was playing well. I think we've got an opportunity to maybe see more linebackers on the field maybe based on how they're playing."

Sabino received the lion's share of the reps with the first team during spring practice while Sweat continued to rehabilitate a serious knee injury suffered last season.

Sabino was in the first-team strongside linebacker role Sunday, the first practice open to media, and the 6-3, 240-pound junior said he feels he is coming off the best offseason of an Ohio State career that started when he enrolled in time for spring practice in 2008.

"I definitely feel like I have a better grasp on what I'm doing now," Sabino said. "I think that's probably helped me play better in the eyes of the coaches, but I agree I've done a better job this past spring and I just look forward to getting better every day."

Sabino was still the No. 1 "Sam" ‘backer Tuesday while Sweat filled the middle linebacker position normally manned by Brian Rolle, a senior returning starter who missed practice because of a scheduling conflict.

Sweat said on the team's annual Picture Day on Sunday he returned to 100 percent in May after undergoing winter surgery and said he was happy to be able to return to full-time participation with the start of preseason camp.

"I love contact," said the 6-2, 238-pound junior. "If you ask anyone, I'll go 100 miles an hour every play."

That natural inclination for aggression has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff, which kept him out of contact in the spring even as he healed faster than expected from surgery.

At that time, there were some rumblings that Sweat could take a redshirt season in 2010 to give him extra time to get healthy while Rolle and Homan, the team's other returning starter, finished out their eligibility.

Sweat's quicker-than-expected recovery may have changed those plans, but nothing has been decided yet.

?"You know what, at first you thought about it as a possibility to see how he felt and stuff, but Andrew is not a kid who takes things slow," Fickell said. "He goes and goes and goes, and he's probably one of the only guys I've seen who has had a knee injury and never complained of swelling or had even a little bit of a setback or anything. He hasn't missed a beat."

Sweat said he wants to do what is best for the team and trusts the coaching staff to make the best decision for everyone involved.

"If they think (a redshirt) is best for me, I'll do it, but I'd obviously like to play. I sat out five games last year and the spring, so I'm definitely biting at the gum to get in and play. I've had conversations about it, but I guess we'll see how camp goes and the coaches will ultimately make that decision."

While Sabino has experience at both the Sam and "Mike" (middle linebacker) positions, Sweat is new to the former spot this year, something else that could work in Sabino's favor along with the valuable experience he gained in the spring.

As mentioned by Fickell, moving around the starters to make room for a newcomer is not without precedent, but both Rolle and Homan are better suited for the Mike and "Will" (weakside linebacker) positions they filled last season because of their quickness and pursuit skills.

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