Now that spring practice is officially in the books, we’re taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall. We’re talking about guys who maybe haven’t had big roles yet but displayed enough during the 15 spring practices — and not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups — to factor heavily into their team’s plans.
The series rolls along with a look at Ohio State and its rebuilding defense.
Spring breakout player: LB Darron Lee
Filling the void left behind by one of the most productive linebackers in the nation isn’t likely going to be a job Ryan Shazier’s replacement in the lineup can do alone, and technically Lee isn’t going to be playing exactly the same position in Ohio State’s retooled defense. But with Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant both returning as starters, the spotlight all spring was on the final piece of the puzzle and the fresh face working with the unit. There wasn’t much buzz about the former high school quarterback and defensive back heading into camp, but Lee impressed the staff with his work in the offseason program and was plugged into the first-team role at strongside linebacker on the opening day of practice — and he never did anything to relinquish the job when all the work on the field was done in the middle of April.
Lee is obviously unproven after appearing in just two games as a true freshman, and he’s still not guaranteed anything heading into training camp with redshirt freshman Chris Worley pushing for playing time as well. But Lee’s ability to stay at the top of the depth chart while the Buckeyes were closely monitoring the position and trying to restore the proud tradition of their linebackers speaks volumes about the potential he has shown on the field as a tackler and in the weight room as he has built his 6-foot-1 frame up to 225 pounds.
The Buckeyes may still not be fully reloaded in terms of depth and experience at linebacker quite yet. But Lee at least appeared to give Ohio State a viable candidate to replace Shazier and fill out the first-team defense, which made the spring a success for both parties. Covers Ohio State and the Big Ten.Joined ESPN in 2012.Attended the University of Wyoming.
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