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These Buckeye Linebackers Rank Very Highly Per Luke Fickell
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS — If you look at the defensive statistics for the Ohio State Buckeyes, you'll see all three starting linebackers among the top five tacklers.

You will see middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan No. 1 with 114 tackles and Will linebacker Joshua Perry No. 2 with 98. Darron Lee is No. 5 with 59 tackles, mostly because he has to line up on the wide side of the field on every snap, which usually leaves him pretty far away from where the play is actually happening.

If Perry notches a pair of tackles against Notre Dame, the Buckeyes will have two linebackers hit the 100-tackle mark in a season for the first time since James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman did it in 2007. That 2007 linebacker trio also featured Larry Grant, who finished No. 5 on the team with 51 tackles, and third on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and second in sacks with 5.0. 

In other words, that group was a pretty good trio. Just like that group, the 2015 trio is highly thought of, and questions are now being asked if this current group might be the best at Ohio State in recent history.

The perfect guy to answer that question is defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who has coached a bunch of great OSU linebackers over the past decade and beyond. He looks past the 2007 group, however, and looks at the famed 2005 trio of A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter.  

"I've been fortunate enough to have a group of three guys that were Hawk, Carpenter, Schlegel, who were two first-rounders and a third rounder in the same year, all were seniors," Fickell said. "They're a lot in the lines of what that is."

Like the 2005 trio, the NFL is also in the future of the 2015 unit. Darron Lee, despite being a redshirt sophomore, has his name plastered over plenty of mock drafts. Joshua Perry, the veteran of the group, should hear his name called early in the 2015 NFL Draft as well. McMillan, meanwhile, was named a second-team All-American as a true sophomore this year, and could very well be playing his last season of college football next year.

So yes, there are some similarities to the 2005 and the 2007 linebackers. But where the 2015 Buckeye linebacker unit separates itself, however, isn't with the triplets, it's with the nonuplets.

"I think the unique thing we have with the whole linebacker group is that we're as deep as I think we've ever been," Fickell explained. "I mean that, from nine guys back. I know nine guys don't play, so it's not as big a deal to everybody outside of the people that are inside our program. But the reality is, that makes us all better.

"Those guys are on special teams. They're a big part of what we do on a daily basis. You have confidence that if something happens, you have the next guy able to go in there."

As to where McMillan would rank this group, he thinks overall they played pretty well. They weren't perfect, but then nobody is.

"You know, we've been solid," he said. "We didn't finish out the way we were supposed to. I think every one of us had a good season. Every one of us has made our mistakes, just like every other trio that came through Ohio State.

"If you want me to rank how high we are, I really don't know. You've got to ask Coach Fickell about that. He's coached every last one of us. To what I think, I think we did a pretty good job."

And if Fickell was forced to rank this unit among those that he has coached in his time at Ohio State? Well, he doesn't need to look too far down the list.

"For the top three guys, it's as good a unit and as good of a potential of a unit as you go back all the way to that '05 group," he said.

Fittingly, even though Carpenter ultimately missed the bowl game, the final game for that 2005 unit came in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, just as is the case for the 2015 unit.

That game ended well for the Buckeyes over a decade ago, and those linebackers were a large part of the reason why. If this game is going to end similarly, Ohio State will need the kind of performance from its linebackers that lives up to their recent lofty comparisons.

Player profiles relevant to story:
5 - McMillan, Raekwon | 37 - Perry, Joshua | 43 - Lee, Darron | Coach - Fickell, Luke
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