Total scholarship players: 8
Average class: Freshman
Average star ranking: 3.9
Total returning starts: 8
Notable stats: Three veterans have combined for 137 tackles (12 for loss) and 5.5 sacks in a combined 64 games played.
2012 outlook: Ohio State will hope to make up in talent what it lacks in experience this fall.
Following the departure of Storm Klein, a senior who was kicked off the team July 7 following charges of domestic violence and assault, only eight Buckeye linebackers remain on scholarship. Seven of them are freshmen or sophomores, but most of them bring a strong pedigree according to recruiting services.
The starters heading into preseason camp are Etienne Sabino, Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier, a trio of out-of-state players who chose Ohio State over a variety of top programs.
Sabino, the only senior of the group, started five games last year as he shared the middle linebacker spot with Klein and filled the Sam position in the rare instances the Buckeyes played their base 4-3 defense. The Florida native and five-star member of the class of 2008 has 74 career tackles, including seven for loss and 2.5 sacks, but he has never caused a turnover while wearing scarlet and gray. He is listed as the starting Sam again, and that could mean more playing time than it did in 2011 as the squad played mostly base defense during spring practice despite predominantly facing three-receiver sets.
Despite missing time in spring ball with a shoulder stinger, Grant overtook Klein (who also battled injuries) for the starting position in the middle. Grant picked up the defense slowly last season, but the five-star Virginia native appeared to have the light go on during spring practice as he let his instincts take over. He is a big hitter who runs well.
While Grant looked noticeably slimmer after dropping about 10 pounds to weigh in at 235, Shazier went the other direction with positive results. A four-star from Florida, Shazier arrived at spring ball packing a solid-looking 226 pounds (up 16 from last season) on his 6-2 frame. Shazier plays with great instincts and brings a lot of speed and playmaking to the Will position, where he filled in late last season and piled up 57 tackles in limited time. A year in the system left Shazier looking and sounding more confident during spring ball, and he seems poised for a big year.
Future forecast: If anyone is injured, the future will be now for the Ohio State linebacking corps.
Redshirt freshman Conner Crowell moved into the No. 2 middle linebacker slot upon Klein’s exit, a noteworthy accomplishment considering he missed all of last season recovering from a gruesome leg injury that ended his high school career at Waldorf (Md.) North Point.
True freshmen Luke Roberts and Josh Perry left spring as backups to Shazier and Sabino, respectively, after enrolling in January to get a jump on their studies and their time in a college weight program. Highly regarded classmates Camren Williams and David Perkins join them this summer and figure to make a push for spots on the two-deep when practice starts in August.
Williams and Perkins are four-star prospects head coach Urban Meyer lured away after taking over the program in November.
Current status: Young but talented
Future outlook: Cautiously optimistic