March 13, 2013

Perry looking for breakout season

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Etienne Sabino left Ohio State's Oct. 6 win over Nebraska with a fractured fibula, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer looked at his stable of five freshmen linebackers to replace the senior captain.

And then he kept looking.

Meyer ultimately settled on converting fullback Zach Boren to linebacker, a move that was initially meant to be temporary as Sabino missed four games, but proved to be permanent. The rest, as they say, is history, as Boren helped anchor an Ohio State defense that proved to be the team's strength in the second half of what was a perfect 12-0 season.

But what was lost in the Buckeyes' storybook season was the fact that Meyer was unwilling to trust the quintet highly-touted linebackers who made up his first recruiting class at Ohio State. With both Boren and Sabino's eligibility having expired, that's something that will have to change for the Buckeyes to have a successful season in 2013. And if the first week of spring practice was any indication, the player that the OSU coaching staff may be leaning on the most to fill one of those voids is Joshua Perry.

A former four-star prospect, Perry appeared to be the most ready for immediate playing time a season ago, and was even named Sabino's initial replacement after his injury. Significant playing time never came to fruition for the Galena, Ohio native, who admitted to being disappointed in his failure to take advantage of the opening that Sabino left a year ago.

"We didn't have the accountability that we really needed," Perry said of last season's freshmen linebackers. "That's what we're developing right now."

Through the first week of spring practice, Perry appears to have a leg up on his classmates. The 6-foot-4, 243-pounder started with the Buckeyes' first-team defense a week ago, alongside sophomore David Perkins, who was filling in for an injured Ryan Shazier.

Perry is confident that he's right in the thick of Ohio State's linebackers competition, as the Buckeyes attempt to replace six starters from last season' front-seven.

"I think I'm right in there," Perry said. "Obviously we've got really good guys, so you can never count anyone out. You've got to just keep going day after day, use the feedback the coaches give you, and just try to be the best you can be."

A physical freak who was one of Ohio's top track and field athletes during his time at Olentangy high school, Perry's body certainly seems ready for the rigors of Big Ten football. But it's not necessarily his skill set that he's trying to showcase this spring, so much as it is his leadership.

"Just a lot of effort and energy, using my athletic ability and showing that I can lead," he said when asked what he wants the coaching staff to see from him. "Showing that I know the game."

Just listening to Perry speak, it's clear that the necessary maturity is there for him to be an impact player come this fall. Perhaps fittingly, the sophomore-to-be admitted that he learned that quality from Sabino and the player who bypassed him on the Ohio State depth chart last fall, and is determined not to let a similar situation play out again.

"It's a competition, that's the thing that Coach Meyer thrives on," Perry said. "We've got good guys and I think that's the best thing is knowing that anybody can play makes you, first off, have to be on top of your game all the time and second off, you know at the end of the day, whoever's in there's going to get the job done.

"It is a lot to put on guys, but I think that's part of the reason you come to Ohio State."


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