LINEBACKERS on both sides of the field during Saturday's game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Buffalo Bulls appear to be of some concern for OSU.
Buckeye head football coach Urban Meyer mentioned the prowess of Buffalo's No. 46, Khalil Mack, and Buckeye offensive coordinator/ quarterbacks coach Tom Herman described Mack as "a really, really good linebacker ... he is an extremely, extremely talented player, probably will be a first few round draftable kind of guy after this season so he poses some match-up issues that we'll have to game plan for."
In regard to the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes, Meyer said that an effort is being made to solidify the linebacker unit. He went to say there's some young guys in the depth as well as Curtis Grant who "has not really played a whole lot of Mike (middle) linebacker. He's catching up quick. He missed a lot of practices because he got injured in training camp but he's going real hard and trying to catch up as fast as he can. That's the only one area that we are a little bit behind."
OSU's defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell pointed out that Grant started maybe three or four games last year at the beginning of the year so his injury in camp is "a little bit of a setback but the great thing about it is Curtis Grant has come a long way. And I don't mean just what he's done on the field, but his maturity and how he prepares and things like that. I don't think it's going to hinder him."
Noting it would be more worrisome if it had been a freshman that missed 10 or so days, Fickell explained he isn't worried about Grant, "because his passion and his energy is what's going to show."
Ryan Shazier, OSU's only holdover starter on the front seven from a year ago, early this week said his only concerns were the linebackers as there is a lot of inexperience right now in the front seven.
Mack, who is entering his senior year at the University of Buffalo and is one of five team captains recently named by head coach Jeff Quinn, already has the school record for career tackles for loss (55) and forced fumbles in a career (11).
The two-time first team All-MAC performer is a highly touted NFL prospect, and he led Buffalo in tackles with 94 and led the MAC in tackles for loss with 21 during his junior year. Anchor for the UB's linebacking corps, he is fifth in the conference with eight sacks and also ranked second in the MAC with four forced fumbles.
Described as a "tremendous physical talent with an unstoppable motor," Mack has been named to the 2013 watch list for the Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik Award, Lombardi Award and Butkus Award.
Meyer said Mack is No. 2 on the board as far as the NFL Draft ... (a) tremendous player. They rush him a lot off the edge. They play a very unorthodox defense."
Several Ohioans are on the Bulls team, including punter Tyler Grassman. The Gahanna Lincoln graduate kicked a 39-yard field goal in overtime, resulting in Ohio edging Pennsylvania 24-21 in the Big 33 Football Classic.
Joining the punter this year at Buffalo is his cousin, Corbin Grassman, projected to be the team's long snapper and special teams ace. He was the star linebacker for the Johnstown-Monroe High School team in Alexandria and was a first team All-State honoree as a senior.
Speaking of Buckeye positions overall, Meyer said he felt very good about the offensive line and the quarterback, and the receivers are probably one of the most improved areas on the team. He also praised the running back position as very good.
"Kickers, interested to see how our kicker, our punter reacts," said Meyer. "That's one unit that remains to be determined and then defense, defensive line, they are young, but coach (Mike) Vrabel has done a really good job with them. ... Safety is a pretty veteran group, three older players. Tyvis Powell is getting his first college start. There are some units, but the linebacker is the one area that's the most concerning."
During a press conference, complimentary things were said about Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller. Asked about what Miller came the furthest in during the last nine or 10 months, Herman replied, "Confidence in himself and in what he's doing."
The Buckeye faithful are hopeful Miller's confidence also affects the rest of the team. As Vince Lombardi, who coached the Green Bay Packers, once noted - "Confidence is contagious. So is the lack of confidence."
Saturday's game will be the first match-up between the two teams, but Meyer is no stranger to the Bulls (at least, years ago) and coach Quinn.
Meyer's Bowling Green State University team during his first year as a head coach defeated the Bulls 35-0.
Quinn, who was hired as UB's head coach in December 2009, was on interim coach elsewhere on two occasions, one of them at the University of Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl when the UC lost to Meyer's Florida Gators, 48-17.
The Buckeyes are entering the season with the nation's longest winning streak at 12 games. Buffalo's records for last year are 4-8 and 3-5 in the MAC East (tied for fourth place).
FORMER Buckeye wide receiver Cris Carter, who was enshrined earlier this month in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, will be honored at Saturday's game.
Carter, who starred for OSU from 1984-86 and then played 16 years in the NFL, played for coach Earle Bruce and was part of two Big Ten championships (1984 and 1986).
His five consecutive games with 100-plus yards receiving in 1986 is still an OSU record.
Saturday's game, which will begin at noon, will be aired on ESPN2.
Pokas can be reached at email@example.com.