Over the past two seasons, linebacker Ryan Shazier piled up 258 total tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, seven forced fumbles and an interception. He earned All-Big Ten first-team honors in both his sophomore and junior seasons while leading the Ohio State defense.
With Shazier off to the NFL, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes face the enormous challenge of finding his replacement.
Next in line for Ohio State is soon-to-be sophomore Trey Johnson, who was Shazier's primary backup last year.
Johnson played sparingly for the Buckeyes in his first year, recording 11 tackles and a quarterback hurry in spot duty. But while he didn't make a huge impact on the field, the coaching staff loved the way he picked up the defense, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer.
Learning the intricacies of the scheme is one of the biggest hurdles for young defenders, so it bodes well for Johnson that he caught on early. He certainly has the skill set to be an outstanding linebacker for the Buckeyes.
Johnson was a 4-star prospect out of Lawrenceville, Ga., who chose Ohio State over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame and USC, among others. According to his 247Sports profile, Johnson recorded 304 tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his final two seasons at Central Gwinnett High School.
The battle for the "Will" linebacker spot Shazier vacated was expected to be a fierce position battle this spring, but Mike Mitchell's surprise transfer made Johnson the overwhelming favorite.
That doesn't mean the competition is over, though.
The Buckeyes just signed four outstanding linebackers in their 2014 class—one 5-star and three 4-star prospects—and Meyer said on signing day that he needs each one to see the field this season.
"Without question, the position that is not up to standard is linebacker," Meyer said, according to Land-Grant Holy Land. "We need these four guys to come in and play."
Most notably, Johnson will be challenged by 4-star prospect Dante Booker. The 6'3", 212-pound standout was rated the No. 2 outside linebacker by 247Sports, and he'll bring the same speed and instincts to the field that made Shazier such a special player.
Booker would need to have a phenomenal fall camp to beat out Johnson, though, so it's a safe bet that the sophomore will get the nod this season.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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