Linebackers under scrutiny in OSU opener

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- No matter how much confidence Urban Meyer has expressed in the personnel and his coaching staff, there's obviously still one area that has his attention and perhaps leaves some reason for concern.

Even his only holdover at linebacker isn't so sure of what exactly Ohio State has in the middle of the defense just a few days out from the season opener.

Ryan Shazier is certainly a sturdy cornerstone to begin a rebuilding project for any defense, and the junior linebacker has had nothing but positive reviews for the two new starters breaking into the lineup with him on Saturday at home against Buffalo. But just like his coach, that doesn't mean there isn't some uncertainty for a unit that will be under intense scrutiny.

"I feel like the biggest concern right now is we have a lot of inexperience in the front seven and a lot of young guys," Shazier said. "So when you’ve got a lot of guys who haven’t played together, it’s kind of a struggle.

"I have to try to get [the linebackers] right. Everything else, I feel like the defensive line is doing a great job, the secondary is doing a great job, I’ve just got to get the linebackers right. We really aren’t right now, but I just have to get everybody ready for this first game."

Shazier isn't going to be held directly responsible for what Curtis Grant does in the middle or Joshua Perry does at strongside linebacker, but he has put the pressure on himself to get them up to speed as a thin group of linebackers tries to get back to the traditionally high standard the Buckeyes hold for the unit.

The depth chart released by the program on Tuesday offered only another reminder of the lack of experience among the Buckeyes expected to contribute this fall. There's a true freshman in Trey Johnson listed behind Shazier. Another true freshman in Mike Mitchell is bracketed with walk-on Joe Burger in support of Grant. And sophomore Camren Williams, who was largely limited to a role on special teams last year, is listed after Perry.

With Shazier the only real known quantity of the bunch, the veteran has at times been overly stressed about setting the tone and leading that group, pressing to do too much on his own and maybe even stressing himself out ahead of the opener. And while Meyer has made it clear that development at linebacker is of critical importance early in the season, lately he has been making sure to deliver another message: Shazier doesn't have to do it all on his own.

"I have seen a guy that was pressing ... and he feels the void of what was there last year," Meyer said. "The last week, he's been Ryan Shazier again, not worrying and just playing. His actions will take care of it. Just lead by example and know when the time is right to be a vocal leader.

"He was certainly feeling pressure about it, and we've had a couple conversations about it."

The Buckeyes should have much more to discuss after the weekend when they finally get some game film to break down. They already know what to expect from an unburdened Shazier, but the guys next to him have something to prove -- both to a veteran teammate and the head coach.