Ohio State Football: Freshmen Linebackers Showing Huge Improvements
Ohio State has issues at linebacker.
Those issues stretch all the way back to the 2012 season—during Urban Meyer's first year—when the Buckeyes needed to convert starting fullback Zach Boren to middle linebacker six weeks into the season.
Boren hadn't played a lick of defense since suiting up for Pickerington High School Central four years earlier, yet he was a dramatic upgrade for the Ohio State defense.
Despite boasting All-American Ryan Shazier, last year's linebacker unit wasn't much better.
Meyer's comments shared with Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors paint an accurate picture. “They don’t look Ohio State-ish," Meyer said. "We’re nowhere near where we need to be as far as the expectation level of the linebacker play here. We need to get back to that.”
Early returns from spring practice indicate that two freshmen could be pulling Ohio State back to that level.
Darron Lee, the 6'2", 225-pound redshirt from New Albany, Ohio, is leading the charge.
This spring, however, Johnson is trying to fight his way into the two-deep rotation and Mitchell is transferring out of the program. It's Lee, the former 3-star athlete who played quarterback in high school, who is earning high praise from Meyer.
According to Dave Biddle of Bucknuts, Meyer loves Lee's effort even though he doesn't have a full grasp of the playbook yet.
The guy that has stepped up, the guy that is playing 4-6 seconds, is a kid named Darron Lee. I have no idea what he’s doing and he probably has no idea what he’s doing, but I don’t care. I want to make sure that culture is out there. You’re not being graded on whether the kid knows what he’s doing right now. Where you are being graded on is as a unit leader. And as a coach, it’s whether you think a kid will play as hard as he absolutely can.
Lee is showing that effort, and he's clearly being rewarded for his effort as he works in as one of Ohio State's top three linebackers.
True freshman Raekwon McMillan is also turning heads.
The 5-star prospect was rated the No. 1 inside linebacker in the 2014 recruiting class, and after signing with the Buckeyes, he graduated early to jump-start his collegiate career and take part in spring practice.
Even before spring practice started, when the team was working through its winter conditioning program, John Brandon of Eleven Warriors reported that Meyer said McMillan had the look of an upperclassman:
Urban Meyer on Raekwon McMillan: "You can't tell the difference between [him] and a junior"— John Brandon (@JBrandon11W) February 5, 2014
That translates to the field.
During Ohio State's first week of spring practice, McMillan ran with the second-team defense and impressed his head coach.
“I was really impressed with Raekwon McMillan today,” Meyer told Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer. “He moved around, very mature, he did enough where I felt very positive about what I saw."
Lee and McMillan have Meyer making positive comments about the linebacker unit—something he hasn't done much of during his tenure at Ohio State.
If that continues, there could be a youth movement in the middle of Ohio State's defense this season.
All recruit rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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