Ohio State's Zach Boren: starting...linebacker?!

Joel Auerbach - Getty Images

Exploring how this happened, and how it should not be.

Saturday night, as I was watching the OSU game, I noticed the familiar number 44 for the Scarlet and Gray playing linebacker. I really didn't think too much about it, as I assumed it was one of the freshmen down on the depth chart pressed in to service due to injuries, and he was wearing the same jersey number that Boren has. It's not terribly uncommon, so I just put it to the side. Then I heard the announcer say something like 'Zach Boren in on the tackle', and I literally had to rewind the DVR and listen to it again--surely he's kidding. He obviously mistook a kid like Joe Burger for Boren, so I quickly pulled up OSU's roster to figure out who the 'other 44' was.

There is no other 44. By God, that IS Zach Boren. My curiosity was peaked, and then I was dismayed. Terribly dismayed. But why?

Earlier in the week, during the Indiana stock market report, I said the following:

I want to make it clear that this is not about Zach Boren the player, nor is it about his performance as a linebacker last night. Okay? Good. So, to continue...what does that say about the current linebackers on the roster that moving Boren became a necessity? Pardon me while I go all arrogant OSU fan for a moment here, but...this is THE Ohio State University. We don't rebuild, we re-load. Whoever the 'next guy up' is, at whatever position, should be, in theory, good enough to start damn near anywhere else in the country.

And all respect and admiration for Boren doing what's asked by the coaching staff to help his team win, but how has it come to this? How is it that a senior FB, who was identified by Meyer as an important part of the offense before the season began, how is it that he can move to linebacker the Tuesday before the Indiana game, see significant playing time during said game and lead the team in tackles, and then be named a possible starting MLB the next?

This is a school that churns out quality linebackers like a Pez factory produces delicious, bite sized candy, and they have been the unit that has been the identity of the vaunted Silver Bullets. Off the top of my head, just in the last 10 years this school has produced Matt Wilhelm, Bobby Carpenter, A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis, Anthony Schlegel, Marcus Freeman, Larry Grant, Thaddeus Gibson, and Brian Rolle.

How in the name of Chris Spielman is there not somebody that, you know, was recruited to play linebacker play the position of linebacker at the real Linebacker U?

Well, in three words: injury, attrition, and inexperience.

On the injury front, senior Etienne Sabino is out for at least three more games with a broken leg. Ryan Shazier has battled nagging injuries all year. Storm Klein was kicked off the team for several weeks while his legal situations played themselves out, and behind them, there's nothing but inexperienced players that head coach Urban Meyer feels isn't ready to play. Meyer says Curtis Grant will 'have a fine career at OSU', but for whatever reason, it won't start this week, or probably this season.

So if these guys aren't ready for primetime, OSU is looking to recruit linebacker pretty heavy this coming class, right? Nope. Of the 17 verbal commitments to OSU for 2013, none--zero, zip, zilch--none are listed as linebackers.

Meyer mentioned that one of the short term possibilities, other than Boren, is to move defensive lineman Nathan Williams into the LB position due the continued strong play of freshman Noah Spence.

But we shouldn't be talking about stuff like this. I can't remember when a top 10 team took one of their most important starting offensive players and switched him to defense in the middle of the season...and made him a potential starter.

As I mentioned here and elsewhere, I think it's a testament to Boren that he can move from offense to defense and play at a high level, with virtually no time to prepare for the switch. That's the kind of leadership that the team can look at and be inspired by moving forward, and maybe it will be a turning point for the defense.

But it's also a testament, in a bad way, to how far the Silver Bullets have fallen. I know injuries happen--that's part of football. But there is no excuse for not having guys recruited at their particular position not ready to play that position when the time comes. Curtis Grant should be ready. He is not.

But where are the juniors and seniors, other than Sabino, who should be starting? Well, they aren't there. Going back to 2008, the year senior Etienne Sabino was recruited, the Buckeyes have signed the following personnel as linebackers, and what their status is with Ohio State (all info from the OSU Scout recruiting page):

2008:

Sabino (5*)--Starter, out due to injury

Andrew Sweat (4*)--Graduated

2009:

Zach Boren (3*)--Yep, he was originally recruited as a MLB. Now starting.

Dorian Bell (5*)--Suspended, left program

Storm Klein (4*)--Suspended multiple times, currently starting

Jordan Whiting (3*)--Transferred out

2010:

Scott McVey (4*)--Career ending injuries

Jamel Turner (4*)--Never signed (11W has a great story here about it)

David Durham (3*)--Recruited as LB, converted to FB, transferred out when Meyer hired

2011:

Curtis Grant (5*)--He'll apparently be awesome. Just not now.

Shazier (4*)--Starter

Connor Crowell (3*)--One of the Not Ready For Primetime Players

2012:

Camren WIlliams (4*)--One of the Not Ready For Primetime Players

David Perkins (4*)--One of the Not Ready For Primetime Players

Luke Roberts (3*)--One of the Not Ready For Primetime Players

Josh Perry (4*)--One of the Not Ready For Primetime Players

What jumps out at you is the zero return on investment from the classes of 2009 and 2010. Not counting Boren, none of the players recruited to be play linebacker at Ohio State are still on the team. The guys that should be your upperclassmen Hawks and Little Animals aren't even on the team, much less playing. The 2011 and 2012 haul should be good, but there's no one to bridge the experience gap from what should be a veteran group to the freshmen and sophomores, and other than Shazier, none of the underclassmen have stepped up to really fill that leadership role.

Hence, Boren moving to linebacker. Although I'm not thrilled about it, it seems to be the best of a bad situation right now. Boren is a senior and will provide much needed guidance to a young and shell shocked linebacking corps, but will more than likely be behind the curve in playing the position.

If this move pays off, and Boren stabilizes the linebacker unit, it will be Meyer's biggest achievement in his young tenure as OSU's coach.

If it fails, it might cost Luke Fickell and/or Everett Withers their job, as there will be a lot of finger pointing as to why multiple 4 and 5 star recruits weren't ready to play when called upon.

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