Lee knows Buckeyes’ LB history very well

COLUMBUS – The images are everywhere. The memories are indelible.

Throughout the hallways and various nooks and crannies of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, are the names and faces that made the position of linebacker one of the most revered at Ohio State.

Spielman. Hawk. Cousineau. Laurinaitis. Katzenmoyer. Gradishar.

Darron Lee knows them all.

A 6-2, 225-pound sophomore, Lee is quickly becoming acquainted with the standing the position has in Buckeyes lore.

“We have all the All-Americans,” the New Albany, Ohio, native said Sunday during media day festivities. “Sometimes, they’ll come back. Guys like A.J. (Hawk) and James (Laurinaitis). You just know they are great players.”

Lee hopes to mentioned in the same breath as those greats some day. Right now, he’s focused on Navy, whom the Buckeyes open with August 30 in Baltimore.

“We’re just looking to get better,” he said. “We know the task at hand. We know the job we have to get done.”

The ‘We’ Lee speaks of is a unit that returns only three with starting experience.

Gone is All-American Ryan Shazier, who’s in Latrobe these days suited up with the Steelers.

But the cupboard isn’t bare, said Lee, who impressed during spring workouts and the first week of fall practice.

“We have competition, but we don’t view it that way,” he said. “We’re a close group brothers. We really love each other.”

The camaraderie between the 13 members of the corps is one of the things defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell is excited about.

“They will battle, push one another and take care of one another,” he said. “It’s really an exciting group.”

Senior and three-time letter winner Curtis Grant is the unit’s anchor. The team’s middle linebacker started 12 games a year ago, making 52 tackles, including four for loss. He also had a pair of pass break-ups.

Junior Joshua Perry, a two-year letter winner, was fourth on the team in tackles last season with 64 from his outside spot.

“I give credit to the Curtis Grants and the Josh Perrys,” Lee said. “They’ve really helped bring the whole linebacker group together.

“Now that everyone’s on the same page, that’s what makes things more loose and fun.

“They’ve helped everyone in the room. It will show when the season starts.”

Junior Camren Williams started one game last season and is also in the mix, as are sophomores Tre Johnson and Chris Worley.

Fickell is also expecting contributions from freshmen Raekwon McMillan, the nation’s top middle linebacker recruit last year, Kyle Berger, and 2013 Ohio Mr. Football Dante Booker.

“There’s a bunch of young guys that are pushing the older guys and I think that’s when you get a chance to get better at the end of the year. That’s what our ultimate goal is,” Fickell said.

Lee relishes the opportunity to make an impact, no matter the role. He said that attitude has permeated the entire unit.

“That’s the thing I’m most impressed with,” Fickell noted. “That’s what I’m proud of. That’s with every single one of them.”

Lee knows all the linebackers have to be versatile – willing to stay in the box and take on the blocks and sometimes drop back and defend the pass.

“It’s a lot of running, a lot of running, that’s for sure,” Lee said of the amount of athleticism asked of the unit. “But we just keep going out there giving it our best effort.”

Head Coach Urban Meyer likes to stress every unit on the field is important to the team’s overall success. Fickell echoed those sentiments, noting linebackers are one part of a strong, overall defense.

“The No. 1 goal is to play great defense,” he said. “Sure, there’s some things that are areas of concern, but the reality is there isn’t one spot, one guy or one group that’s responsible for stopping the pass and the run.

“It’s not one, it’s 11. We have to focus on that. And, in the long run, that will make us a better defense.”

That being said, Fickell is quite pleased by the linebackers at this stage.

“I’m very happy with how they’ve come along,” Fickell said. “I’m not going to say they’re going to go out and be the No. 1 linebacking corps in the country, but I’ll say this, I don’t think there’s a tighter group or one that’s more fun to coach.”

Thorp can be reached at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com