The linebacker depth chart is already pretty congested, and it looks like it will remain that way until at least 2012. Undeterred by the Buckeyes outstanding 2008 recruiting class, which featured two of the nation’s best and most sought after defensive players, the Buckeyes have already landed two elite linebacker prospects in their 2009 recruiting class and have two additional solid prospects flying a bit under the radar.
I am not sure that anyone expected both James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman to return to the Buckeyes in 2008. Laurinaitis was a sure first round pick and Freeman was likely to go fairly early as well, the fact that both are returning for their final years of eligibility was a pleasant surprise for Buckeyes fans, but it had to be a bit disappointing to Buckeye second and third stringers like Ross Homan and Austin Spitler who are now relegated to another year of back up duty.
The spring play of 2008 recruits and early enrollees Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat throw another monkey wrench into the long-term depth chart projections. Both players were impressive and appear poised to challenge for some play-time this year and both will challenge for starting spots as early as 2009.
Yet in spite of the swelling linebacker ranks Jim Tressel is continuing to hoard elite linebacker prospects. I am not sure where he is going to put them all, but Coach Tressel has added an impressive collection of talented linebacker prospects in his 2009 class in Dorian Bell, Adam Homan, Storm Klein, and Jordan Whiting have recently verbally committed to Ohio State’s 2009 class. All these players were heavily recruited by top-level programs, but chose to come to Ohio State and one of the most congested depth charts in the country; it makes you wonder why they would come to a program with such a challenging play-time situation. Either these players are exceptionally confident or exceptionally competitive. The answer bodes well for the Buckeyes in either case.
Dorian Bell at 6’1” 210 pounds, is the smallest and most athletic of the group; he is also the highest rated. Bell, from Gateway Senior High School, is the latest in a wave of elite high school players from Pennsylvania to cross the state’s western border to play for Jim Tressel. Bell’s impressive speed allows him to stay stride for stride with tight ends and wide receivers in coverage. Bell clearly falls into the new wave of undersized speed backers that are about half safety, half linebacker, based on his videos, he plays 100% like a linebacker. Bell is the best linebacker prospect that I have ever seen, the day he sets foot on campus he will be one of the three best linebackers on the roster. Watch the videos to convince yourself, and keep in mind, he still has a senior year of HS to go.
Storm Klein’s name is about as perfect a linebacker name as A.J. Hawk; it just has the ring of a guy that brings the wood on each and every hit. That is pretty much what you get with Klein. Klein tips the scale at 225 lbs now, but should easily put on 10-15 lbs to tip the scales at a final playing weight of 235-240. This makes Klein big enough to play inside, but he still has the speed on the outside. I am not certain that Klein’s ultimate home will be on the defensive side of the ball, but he is a relentless player that Jim Tressel will find a role for.
The fact that Ross Homan’s little brother is in the class should surprise no one. Homan bleeds scarlet and grey and I am sure that his little brother really had no choice in the matter. Ross was a highly ranked linebacker coming out of high school and so is his little brother. At 6’2” 225 pounds Adam Homan looks like a clone of his older brother. Both Homans bring enough quickness, but really make their money with the most classic of linebacker traits, unmatched toughness. Adam Homan is not going to blow you away with his speed; he just fills holes and makes tackles. With the current congestion in the linebacker depth chart, it would not surprise me to see Adam Homan and/or Zach Boren switched to fullback or H-back.
Jordan Whiting, from Trinity High School for Boys in Louisville, shows great instincts and an ability to shed blockers. Whiting has the frame to put on the NCAA size and has the straight-line speed to succeed, but shows great quickness and acceleration in responding to cuts. He plays much better in space than he has gotten credit for from the recruiting services. I think it is just a matter of time before his stock rises, but then again, with an early commitment it is hard to say whether he will continue to get the pursuit from the major programs necessary to drive his rankings. In the end, rankings don’t matter, it is all about the player and his desire to make plays.
Here is the current and future Ohio State linebacker-corps, it is a rosy future indeed!
Marcus Freeman (2004*-2008)
James Laurinaitis (2005-2008)
Austin Spitler (2005*-2009)
Ross Homan (2006-2009)
Tyler Moeller (2006*-2010)
Brian Rolle (2007-2010)
Jermale Hines (2007-2010)
Etienne Sabino (2008-2011)
Andrew Sweat (2008-2011)
Jordan Whiting (2009-2012)
Dorian Bell (2009-2012)