Perry Primed For Breakout Season

Attempting to replace an All-American in Ryan Shazier, Joshua Perry knows that he has his work cut out for him. But Ohio State's junior-to-be feels as though momentum from a late season surge has carried into this spring and a breakout season in 2014 could follow.

With two early departures and a duo of senior safeties having graduated, there won't be any shortage of holes to be filled on the Ohio State defense in 2014. But perhaps no loss looms larger than that of All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier, who opted to forego his senior season in Columbus in order to enter the upcoming NFL Draft.

Through the first two weeks of spring practice, Darron Lee has been the lone new starter in the Buckeyes' linebacker corps, but it won't be up to him to replace the lost production of Shazier. Rather that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of junior-to-be Joshua Perry, who has made the switch from his familiar Sam linebacker spot to Shazier's vacated Will linebacker position this offseason.

"It's a little bit new," Perry admitted. "We're downhill, we're reacting in the pass game and trying to get hands on guys. We're really aggressive. I love it."

As opposed to the Sam position, which takes on more responsibilities in coverage, Perry's new job will call for the Galena, Ohio native to take on more of a "see ball, get ball" mentality. The difference between what's required from a Will and what's asked of from a Sam was evident in Shazier and Perry's respective stat lines last season, with Shazier tallying 143 tackles and Perry netting less than half of that with 64.

But with Shazier, Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett all having moved on, Perry finds himself as the leading returning tackler on this year's Ohio State squad. Asked if he's capable of replicating the eye-popping numbers that Shazier did a year ago, the Olentangy product was optimistic.

"Hopefully," Perry said. "But it's not about individual stats necessarily. It's about what I can do for the team. But if that's how it is, then that's how it is."

At 6-4 and 250 pounds, Perry is significantly larger than his predecessor at the Will position, as Shazier measured in at 6-2, 230 pounds. Having seen significant playing time in each of his first two seasons at Ohio State, Perry has flashed plenty of promise but perhaps nevermore than he did in last season's Orange Bowl.

It was in that loss to Clemson that the former four-star prospect recorded a career-high 10 tackles, seven of which were solo, and his lone sack of the 2013 season. But while Perry attributed his late season success to a sense of familiarity with his role and responsibilities, he now finds himself trying to recapture just that while playing a new position in a new scheme.

"I had that comfort level toward the end of the year to be able to play a little bit faster and know my assignment and just go," he said. "Now I'm trying to get that comfort level to where I can just see the play and react. I want to be able to do everything fast with reckless abandonment.

"When it clicks, it's not necessarily as important as keeping the momentum going."

With two weeks of spring practice in the books, Perry feels as though he's made significant strides toward doing just that. And given his size, athleticism -- and now experience -- that could bode well for the Buckeyes this fall.

"The sky's the limit I think for me," Perry said. "Last year, I did alright. I got a little bit of momentum heading into the end of the year. I think that's carried over. But I can't stop right now."

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