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April 13, 2006With warmer weather on their side, the Buckeyes continued their preparing for the Scarlet & Gray Game that will signal the end of spring practices.
Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell said the coaching staff has put in three-quarters of the defensive gameplan, but said they are still learning which players can best execute it.
"We're always going to be optimistic at this point, but we really think we've got a lot of young kids that are going to play hard and run around," he said. "They've just got to get some experience."
Fickell is tasked with perhaps the most difficult task of the OSU coaching staff. With Lombardi Trophy winner A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel all graduating, Fickell has a core of young linebackers vying for starting roles.
He listed three starters - John Kerr , James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman - but cautioned that that could change before the season opener.
"At linebacker we feel really good with our numbers," he said. "I think you've got seven guys that could possibly start day one."
A name not mentioned as a starter is senior Mike D'Andrea , who is being held out of spring practices as he continues to battle to get healthy. After a separated shoulder kept him out of the final three games during his sophomore season, D'Andrea missed the final eight games of his junior season with a knee injury. He was granted one more year of eligibility after not appearing in any games during last season.
Kerr is hoping to get back to the form that saw him lead Indiana as a freshman in 2002, when he finished with 114 total tackles. He sat out a year after transferring to OSU, then played on mostly special teams for the previous two seasons.
Now, in his final season, he hopes to finish his collegiate career just like it started.
"This is where I've always wanted to be," he said. "Growing up as a youngster, everybody wants to play for Ohio State who grows up in Ohio."
Laurinaitis has the most game experience among the younger linebackers, having played in almost all of the final two games for OSU last season. In addition to his starting three, Fickell singled out junior college transfer Larry Grant as well as juniors Chad Hoobler and Curtis Terry as having had impressive spring practices.
With Kerr as the only established veteran the coaching staff is counting on to play this fall, several of the younger linebackers are catching the eye of Fickell. It has also affected his coaching approach.
"I think the approach changed a little bit in the sense of what you do," he said. "I think you've really, really got to start them out slow and try and find out who you think can play and not just the guys who know the defense, but the guys that can play football when the ball is snapped."