More than once last season, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said his linebackers didn’t “look Ohio State-ish.”
And that was with NFL-bound underclassman Ryan Shazier in the lineup.
Meyer took another shot at the group on national signing day Wednesday, when he appeared on his weekly radio call-in show on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus.
“Without question the position that’s not up to standard is linebacker at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “A lot of mistakes have been made. There are players that have not been developed. I could go on and on and on. We need these four guys to come in and play.”
It was hard to tell if Meyer was criticizing himself, his players, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell or even the previous regime of former coach Jim Tressel. But with Shazier’s departure, the linebacker cupboard appeared virtually bare.
At least it did.
Of the 23 players who signed national letters of intent with Ohio State on Wednesday, four are linebackers, including St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Dante Booker Jr., Mr. Football in Ohio in 2013. Joining him were Raekwon McMillan of Liberty County High School in Hinesville, Ga., Kyle Berger of St. Ignatius and Sam Hubbard of Cincinnati Moeller. McMillan has already enrolled at OSU.
Rivals.com rated McMillan as the No. 1 inside linebacker in the Class of 2014, with Booker No. 4. Among outside linebackers, the site had Berger No. 17 and Hubbard No. 36. ESPN.com listed Booker as the No. 8 outside linebacker.
“I’m putting pressure on them, on coach Fickell and on myself to get them ready to play next year,” Meyer said later during his news conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “They have to play for us. There’s no redshirt plans for those players at all.”
Ohio State is not Linebacker U., but it has sent a distinguished list to the NFL, including Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, Chris Spielman, Pepper Johnson, Steve Tovar, Andy Katzenmoyer and A.J. Hawk. Those stars set a standard that Meyer believes the Buckeyes failed to live up to last season.
Neither could the 2013 group, which also included starters Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant, come close to the 2006 senior class of Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel. Those linebackers ended up pictured on a box of Buckeye Heroes cereal after they departed for the NFL. Hawk, picked fifth overall by the Green Bay Packers, is still playing in the league.
Losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl only cemented for Meyer that the position needed what he dubbed Wednesday as an “overhaul.”
He didn’t sound worried that might include extensive playing time for freshmen.
To ease that transition, he found replacements at traditional high school powers. Moeller and St. V-M won back-to-back state championships, Moeller in Division I, St. V-M in Division III. St. Ignatius has captured a record 11 Division I titles under coach Chuck Kyle.
Meyer said on 97.1 The Fan that he decided to go after Booker after he watched him dominate Bellevue in the 2012 state championship game. Last season Booker became the first defensive player to be named Ohio’s Mr. Football since Westerville South’s Katzenmoyer in 1995.
“If I had my choice you’d take ’em all from state champions,” Meyer said on 97.1 The Fan. “I also like guys who were captains of their teams and guys who performed best against their rivals or in playoff games.”
Meyer gave examples of defensive linemen from his past two classes from powerhouse programs, Joey Bosa from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2013 and Noah Spence of Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2012.
“The better the high school program the young man comes from, the faster the guy will get on the field,” Meyer said during the radio interview. “That means he’s used to a faster way of practicing, used to a more complex offense/defense. Also [it’s] the physical attributes the young man has. Usually I can tell in the first two or three days [of practice] if that young man can help us.”
Meyer expects the four to bring OSU back to the linebacker standard that has slipped of late. If their performances merit a cereal box, it’s not hard to imagine what Meyer would say to that.
You can almost hear him growling, “Grrrreat!”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.