Loaded on offense, Ohio State could be putting its title hopes in the hands of
a set of largely untested linebackers
As Ohio State's
likely starting strongside linebacker this fall, James Laurinaitis knows well
what's in store for him the first time he misses a tackle or blows an
assignment. "People are going to say, 'If that was A.J. or Bobby, that
wouldn't have happened,'" says Laurinaitis.
A.J. and Bobby are
former Buckeyes linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, projected
first-round picks in this weekend's NFL draft who, along with departed senior
Anthony Schlegel, combined for 252 tackles and 191/2 sacks for 10--2 Ohio State
last season. While the Buckeyes enter 2006 with a bevy of playmaking stars on
offense ( quarterback Troy Smith, wideout Ted Ginn Jr., running back Antonio
Pittman), last Saturday's Scarlet and Gray game gave the 63,649 on hand their
first opportunity to scrutinize the many new players on defense, most notably
Ohio State isn't
completely devoid of experience at the position. As a freshman at Indiana in
2002, John Kerr finished tied for seventh in the Big Ten in tackles, with 114.
After a falling-out with then Hoosiers coach Gerry DiNardo, Kerr transferred to
OSU, where, after sitting out a year, he played mostly on special teams for the
past two seasons. "When you're behind a guy like A.J., your options are
kind of limited," says Kerr, a native of Strongsville, Ohio, who because of
the Big Ten's intraconference transfer rules is prohibited from receiving
scholarship aid. His patience should finally be rewarded this season, as Kerr
is listed as the starter at middle linebacker. "It will be exciting to
actually go out there and hit people," he says. "It's been four
Kerr is expected
to be joined in the lineup by Laurinaitis, a sophomore who filled in for an
injured Carpenter against Michigan and Notre Dame at the end of last season,
and third-year sophomore Marcus Freeman, who will take over Hawk's vacated
weakside position. Their spots are not locked up, however, due to impressive
performances this spring by a pair of newcomers. Ross Homan, a freshman from
Coldwater, Ohio, who enrolled in January, turned heads in his first spring
workouts, drawing comparisons with a young Hawk. He led the Scarlet team with
eight tackles on Saturday. Then there's Larry Grant, an athletic transfer from
City College of San Francisco who was the 2005 junior college national player
of the year. "Every day he shows you why you have to find a way to make him
impact your team," says coach Jim Tressel.
hard-hitting junior Curtis Terry and promising redshirt freshman Austin
Spitler, Tressel believes he has seven candidates for three starting positions.
"They all run well, they all seem to be learning well," he says.
"From those seven guys we're going to end up with a pretty solid
With last year's
starting secondary wiped out as well, the new linebackers will need to jell
quickly if the Buckeyes are to contend for the 2006 national title. (Several
polls have tabbed Ohio State as the likely preseason No. 1.) They visit
defending national champion Texas on Sept. 9 in their second game. It was an
encouraging sign, however, that the young defenders held their own against
their vaunted offensive counterparts in spring scrimmages, and neither the
Scarlet nor the Gray cracked 300 yards of offense on Saturday. "If we can
stop our team," says Laurinaitis, "we're going to be all
touted quarterbacks who signed with Top 20 programs in February enrolled early
and were on the field for spring practice. Here's how they fared.
? Texas coach Mack
Brown indicated that Jevan Snead (above) will platoon with redshirt freshman
Colt McCoy to start the season. Snead completed 9 of 13 passes for 97 yards
with a touchdown and an interception in the Longhorns' spring game.