As spring practice reaches a midpoint and begins to wind down around Big Ten country, now is a perfect time to take a look at some of the position battles that will be critical to winning a Big Ten championship this autumn.
To start this series, let’s begin with the defending Leaders Division champion Ohio State and the Buckeyes’ most important hole to fill in 2014.
That would be the linebacker slot.
Just two years ago, Urban Meyer and his defensive staff decided at midseason to convert fullback Zach Boren to linebacker to fill the gaping hole in the middle of the defense. Last year Ohio State played primarily a nickel defense to avoid having to put a third linebacker on the field for most plays.
And now, all-conference star and leader of the defense Ryan Shazier has left for the NFL. Shazier racked up 144 tackles in 2013 to go with 115 in 2012, great numbers even for the playmaking Will (weak-side) linebacker role.
That production does not just replace itself, especially when the Buckeyes struggled to find any other consistent performer over the past two seasons. In addition, new defensive coordinator Chris Ash plans to have the Buckeyes play much more of a base defense with three linebackers on the field rather than the nickel formation used frequently in the past two seasons.
No proven options and three regular spots to fill in the middle of the defense. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
So how will the Buckeyes address this important concern and return to…