Is there a deeper group of linebackers in the whole country? I think the answer is a pretty obvious one—no!
With that said, there is a lot to watch for in the 2008-09 season at linebacker. How will the veterans perform? Who will take the last linebacker spot? What kind of impact could the freshmen have? These are big questions, so let's take a look...
James Laurinaitis: There are some players you just don't worry about, and Laurinaitis is one of them. Last season he led the team with 121 tackles and was the star of the defense. On top of this, he pulled in the Dick Butkus Award this past year.
So I am going to be brief with Laurinaitis. He is the leader of the defense, and he is great at stopping up the middle. The fact that he returned for his senior season was very admirable, and he should have another incredible season in '08-09. Laurinaitis just adds to the tradition at Linebacker U.
Marcus Freeman: If Freeman was not in Laurinaitis' shadow, who knows how much press he would get? He also returned for his senior year, and like Laurinaitis makes our defense one of the best in the country. Freeman racked up 71 tackles and two interceptions last year. A bigger season could be on the way for Freeman.
Jermale Hines: Hines did not get much love from Buckeye fans when he committed late in the '07 class. Buckeye fans feel much differently now. Hines has great speed and football instincts. Before his injury in the spring game, Hines looked to have a major impact at outside linebacker this season.
Obviously the injury will slow him down, but Hines looks to be a major player in the future. The Buckeyes need as much speed at OLB as they can, so Hines is very valuable.
Curtis Terry: Terry looks to be the man to beat for the last starting job at linebacker. Not only that, Terry is also playing fullback on the other side of the ball. Terry is a run-stopping machine and will really round out the linebacking core well.
Terry has always been a hard worker, and I think his senior season could hold a lot of great things. Look for No. 99 (not No. 55) to be making some big plays on both sides of the ball.
Ross Homan: Homan is going to be one of the most interesting players to watch this season. His freshman year he raked in 28 tackles, and he has looked like a stud in the spring games. Homan had a foot injury last year that slowed his efforts.
With Grant's departure, I look for more playing time for Homan. He is one of those tough Midwest linebackers out of the same mold as Hawk and Laurinaitis, and this year could be his coming-out party. Look for No. 51 out on the field a lot more this season.
Tyler Moeller: Moeller is a kid your heart has to go out to. On any other team Moeller would probably be a very solid linebacker, but he has been buried on the depth chart at Ohio State. Moeller did bulk up in the offseason though, and he is a very hard hitter.
My personal prediction is that Moeller will fight with Hines for playing time behind Curtis Terry. With the possibility of Terry playing both ways, that could mean a lot of playing time for Moeller. Add this to the fact that Hines is coming off an injury, and you could see Moeller showing his skills for the first time besides special teams.
Brian Rolle: I have to say that Brian Rolle is one of my favorite players on the team. I think he has won a lot of Buckeye fans over with his speed and hitting ability on special teams. Rolle has all the intangibles to be a stud, and I think he is only going to get more and more playing time.
Rolle, like Hines, has a ton of speed and can really help the OLB position. You better watch Rolle the next few seasons because his stock is going to continue to rise!
Austin Spitler: Like Moeller, my heart goes out to Spitler. Spitler would be a stud most places in the Big Ten, but he finds himself behind Laurinaitis for yet another season. Spitler will likely see the field even more in '08-09 and probably will be the starter at MLB the following season.
I am a big Spitler fan, and I hope that things work out for him. This season could really show a lot for what the future holds for Spitler.
Etienne Sabino & Andrew Sweat: Not only were Sabino and Sweat huge pickups in the '08 recruiting class, they both came in the spring. Sabino and Sweat are going to be very far ahead of most freshmen entering the '08-09 season.
Sweat is going to be a good one in the future, but this season does not look to hold much for him. He will start getting a look at playing time next season in my opinion.
Sabino, on the other hand, is going to be interesting to watch. The guy is an animal, and he's huge for a freshman linebacker. He looked very solid in the spring game, and I cannot wait to watch him in the future.