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Published: Wednesday, 8/19/2009

Moeller injury leaves big gap for Ohio State

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS A swing and a sucker punch thrown about a thousand miles away has altered things for Ohio State at one of its cornerstone positions linebacker. That patch of the field where Spielman and Katzenmoyer and Hawk and Laurinaitis once starred is in need of a significant infusion of full-time talent.

After the graduation of the two-time All-American James Laurinaitis and his running mate and fellow three-year starter Marcus Freeman, there was a substantial void. When junior Tyler Moeller got assaulted recently while on vacation in Florida, resulting in a serious head injury that ended his 2009 season before it started, the void became more of a chasm.

Moeller was expected to line up for the Buckeyes, alongside junior Ross Homan, the only returning starter at the position. As many as six players figured to compete for the third linebacker spot, with senior Austin Spitler and junior Brian Rolle out front of a clutch of young talent.

The injury to Moeller, which put him in the intensive care unit and eventually required surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, has intensified the preseason camp auditions for sophomores Andrew Sweat and Etienne Sabino, along with freshmen Storm Klein and Dorian Bell.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said it was very unfortunate to lose a player like Moeller, a veteran special teams standout who started twice at linebacker in 2008, and was a busy backup at the position throughout last season.

It s tough you hate to see things like that happen, but we re obviously thrilled it looks like Tyler s going to be OK, Tressel said, since the initial reports on Moeller indicated his football career could be over.

The situation we have now is there is an opportunity for some of these other guys to step up and fill that role. They all want to play, so we ll see who seizes that opportunity as we go through camp.

Homan, who was a three-time All-Ohioan at Coldwater and the state s defensive player of the year, missed a lot of spring ball with an injury but is healthy and a lock to start at one of the outside linebacker positions. With less than three weeks to go before the Buckeyes open the season at home against Navy, Spitler and Rolle look to have the inside track on the other jobs, with Rolle likely playing in the middle.

I d be happy playing wherever they need me, Rolle said at Ohio State s recent media day. Over the last couple of years I ve got to watch how James and Marcus did things, how hard they worked, and how they always played like leaders. I m just anxious to compete really hard in camp, and then play the coaches will put me where I can best help the team.

Sabino is a Florida native, like Rolle, and just as anxious to seize the moment in camp. Sabino played primarily on special teams in 2008, and took a blocked punt back 20 yards for a score against Purdue, the only touchdown in that game.

I am just looking for the chance to get out on the field more and contribute, Sabino said. It really doesn t matter which position that is. The coaches have told us we re all in competition, so everybody s pushing. That s just going to make us all better.

Sweat, a Pennsylvania product, got in his licks on special teams as a freshman. Klein was a three-time All-Ohioan at Licking Valley, and he enrolled early at Ohio State to take part in spring ball. Bell was a Parade All-American at Gateway in Monroeville, Pa.

Ohio State assistant coach Luke Fickell, who serves as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, will have the job of sorting out the talent at the position.

We ve got to go a little slower, because these younger guys haven t been in the system that long and we re throwing a lot at them, but that gives us a chance to see who picks things up the quickest, Fickell said.

We re trying to put them in situations during camp, and get them as much experience as we can to have them all ready for the season. Every guy we bring here has the talent and the ability to play the position the key is finding out which ones can digest all of this, and then go out and be at their best on game day.

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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