"It brings you back to earth. For a guy who's one of the top middle linebackers in the NFL, it's amazing for him to look at me and say he wants me to be better, somebody he barely knows. That's something that you tell your little brother. It shows that Buckeye pride."
- Raekwon McMillan on talking with James Laurinaitis via Doug Lesmerises, Northeast Ohio Media Group
Even before stepping foot on campus at Ohio State big things were expected from linebacker Raekwon McMillan during his Buckeye career. It's easy to see why many have high expectations for McMillan since he was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in Georgia. Last season McMillan saw a good amount of playing time as a freshman, and this year he'll see even more as he takes over as starter following the graduation of Curtis Grant. Even in his short time as a Buckeye, McMillan is reminding co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell of another great Ohio State linebacker. James Laurinaitis has said Fickell told him he sees a lot of similarities between McMillan and the St. Louis Rams linebacker.
While there are plenty of similarities between the linebackers in how they play the game, the situations they stepped into are a little different. McMillan has the luxury of having fellow linebackers Joshua Perry and Darron Lee to shoulder the load this year, while as a sophomore Laurinaitis had to step up after A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Anthony Schlegel left for the NFL. After the two began talking this spring while Laurinaitis was working out at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the former Buckeye has high expectations for McMillan, urging the sophomore to be better than he was during his time at Ohio State. Not only does Laurinaitis have high expectations for McMillan, but McMillan has high expectations for himself, striving to be the captain of a dominant defense. With a great linebacker like Laurinaitis to lean on, McMillan is certainly on the right track to making quite a name for himself during his Ohio State career.
"They don't treat me like a new guy because I've been on that side of the ball at an earlier stage of my career. At the same time, going through everything I've been through, with all the adversity through my career, I have to be that guy."
Ohio State will have the luxury of four starters returning on the offensive line this year as they try to repeat as national champs. The only departure from last year's line is Darryl Baldwin, and his spot will be filled by fifth-year senior Chase Farris. So far during his Ohio State career it has been hard for Farris to find a home, moving between the offensive and defensive lines, but his final season as a Buckeye will mark the first time he has played on the same unit two years in a row. The most notable play last year for Farris came in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, when he had to replace Jacoby Boren for a play when the center was injured as the Buckeyes were knocking on the door to score against the Crimson Tide in the second quarter. Farris was up to the task when called upon, helping to clear the way for Ezekiel Elliott to score to draw Ohio State closer in the game.
With the movement between the offensive and defensive lines, it would've been easy for Farris to become upset with the constant change, but he says coaches and fellow players have helped to keep him upbeat and focused during the changes. Even though he is the new starter on the offensive line, Farris doesn't feel like the "new guy" because of the time he has spend with his fellow linemen, being the top backup last year. The other members of "The Slobs" have tons of confidence in Farris as well, not only because of his experience with the team, but also because of the growth he has made during the offseason. If the preseason talk is any indication, the offseason line should be able to pick up right where they left off in their tremendous finish to last year.
"Elliott finished the 2014 season on a tear, rushing for more than 200 yards in each of his last three games while leading the Buckeyes to a national championship. His final tally for the season: 1,878 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns."
With less than a month before the 2015 college football season kicks off, today ESPN released their preseason Heisman rankings. A group of 10 ESPN experts voted in the poll and the early results have Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott as the slight favorite over TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin. Elliott registered six first-place votes on his way to 40 points in the poll, while Boykin received three first-place votes and sits at 39 points. The only other first-place vote in the poll went to Georgia running back Nick Chubb.
Elliott wasn't the only Buckeye to receive votes in the poll, with quarterback J.T. Barrett sitting in fifth place with 9 points. Quarterback Cardale Jones and wide receiver Braxton Miller each tallied 2 points and are in four-way tie for eight place with Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and Alabama running back Derrick Henry.
"I just feel like I can have a better season this year, especially because I'm healthy, and just the fact that I know what I'm doing. The speed of the game is back to what it used to be and I'm just having fun."
In Columbus there is one Buckeye linebacker looking to make a name for himself in his second year with the team, while about three hours east a former Buckeye linebacker is hoping to do the same in his second year in the NFL. Early last year Ryan Shazier had a promising rookie campaign going before a couple of injuries caused him to miss seven games. In his first two games with the team, Shazier had racked up 17 tackles, and during the third game he was beginning to feel comfortable with the speed of play in the NFL. The linebacker wasn't able to build on that feeling much, as he was injured in the same game and didn't return to the field until over a month later at the end of October against the Colts. Shazier was injured again in early November and didn't return to the field until early December, appearing in the last four regular season games and the playoff game against the Ravens.
The 4.4 speed is what makes Shazier stand out, and he became the first rookie linebacker to start a season opener for the Steelers since 2001. The exceptional abilities of Shazier were on full display in the Hall of Fame game on Sunday, registering five tackles in two quarters in the preseason opener against Minnesota in Canton. Expectations are high for the second-year player, and if he can stay healthy there is little doubt that he will quickly become one of the leaders of the Pittsburgh defense. Even though he had to suffer through injuries in his rookie season, Shazier's confidence is sky-high now and it wouldn't be surprising to see him breakout and become one of the NFL's young defensive stars this year.
STICK TO SPORTS:
- Columbus checks in as the 7th least religious city in the United States.
- The Columbus Summer Beerfest takes place on Friday and Saturday at the LC Pavilion.
- Speaking of beer, those in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area can pick up the real breakfast of champions in late August.
- The University of Akron President paid a lot for a decorative olive jar.
- "Sesame Street" is headed to HBO.