July 1, 2010

Taking a look at the inside linebackers

While fans at Penn State may disagree with this distinction, Ohio State has held up its case for being considered "Linebacker U."

Regardless of what season it is, there always seems to be at least one stud linebacker in the second level of Ohio State's defense and this upcoming season doesn't look to be an exception to that.

Perhaps the most recognizable linebacker in the unit for Ohio State this year is outside backer Ross Homan, but he may not be the only who could contend for some national attention come the fall.

Read on as we take a look at the inside linebackers to get the full situation of where Ohio State stands at this position as we inch closer and closer to the commencement of fall camp:

Key losses: None

Returning lettermen: Brian Rolle and Storm Klein

Fall Newcomers: None

Mike Linebacker

36 Brian Rolle (5-foot-11, 218, Sr.)

32 Storm Klein (6-foot-2, 230, So.)

39 Jordan Whiting (6-foot-1, 238, rFr.)

1. How much can Ohio State expect out of Rolle this season?

It is truly amazing how much can change in just the matter of one calendar year. Last season heading into fall camp Rolle was a reserve trying to work his way into the lineup. Always sporting a ton of confidence, Rolle guaranteed before fall camp last year that he would eventually be named as a member of the starting linebacking corps. Just a week into the fall, he guarantee was made a reality.

Rolle isn't the biggest player on the roster, but he has always vowed to play every play like his last. Striving to be "great" is always in his vocabulary and he has been known to flow to the ball very fast. As a result, the 5-foot-11 linebacker was responsible for 94 tackles, which was ninth best in the Big Ten Conference.

This season it is hard not to expect the same type of output from Rolle, who also was in the right place at the right time to make big plays quite a bit last season. Rolle had a big interception in the season opener against Navy that helped Ohio State escape with the win and always seemed to put himself in the right position at the right time. In his second year as a starter, it may not be out of the question to expect a 100-tackle season out of him.

2. What can Rolle improve on in his second year?

Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell has already maintained that both Homan and Rolle are the best two linebackers on the team and both will most certainly be starters come the fall. However, Fickell is always looking for improvement and while both Homan and Rolle combined for 203 tackles last year, he certainly wants to see player take steps forward. While it is no secret that Rolle was more than serviceable in his first year as a starter, there were some issues the Buckeyes' defensive coaches would like to be tightened up.

As mentioned above, Rolle is a player that likes to use his speed to his advantage. Many times, using that speed has helped him make terrific plays in pursuit. In others, though, Rolle has been known to overshoot his pursuit in certain situations. Rolle has sometimes taken himself out of plays by getting places a tad too early or over-pursuing, and while his mistakes have been covered up most of the time by the stellar players around him, Fickell and the staff would surely like to see this tendency erased in 2010. After all, it only takes one bad play to change the entire course of a season.

3. Could Klein factor into the mix this year?

It would be hard to envision Klein as a key member of the linebackers unit this year, but he definitely will get his time in the rotation. Last season as a freshman Klein worked his way into the two-deep, which is proof that he certainly has the mental aspect of the game down. While it isn't easy to catch up physically, Klein has done a good job of impressing the coaches in the early stages of his career. While he will get spot up duty and some special teams work this year, it looks as if Klein is prepared to take over as the starter in the middle as a junior in 2011.

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at [email protected].

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