COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Joshua Perry says he's ready for his closeup.
The Ohio State linebacker played well while learning the job a year ago. Now he's being counted on heavily to replace first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier and shepherd several new players through their first season with the fifth-ranked Buckeyes.
Perry is being counted on to fill in for last year's leading tackler, Ryan Shazier, who was taken with the No. 15 pick in the first round of the NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Urban Meyer has already challenged Perry. Meyer believes the linebacking crew is improved, but just how much depends on the strides made by the junior from suburban Columbus.
"If you had to say what's the difference between this team and last year's team, we're faster," Meyer said. "There are a couple of areas where guys have got to step up. Josh Perry has to step up and play big."
Perry doesn't mind that kind of pressure.
"That puts a lot of stuff on my plate, but I like it," he said. "That's great motivation. Obviously you want to play well but to know that a lot of people are depending on you makes you go that much harder and makes you that much more accountable."
A year ago, the defense was ripped for more than 35 points a game in the final three games, the latter two representing losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
The pass defense was leaky, but it was also clear that the linebackers contributed to all those points allowed.
Meyer brought in a new defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, who tore up the old system and installed a new one in which there's more ballhawking and less reaction time. The cornerbacks will play cover on the wide-outs and everyone else will more or less seek and destroy.
The starters at linebacker in Saturday's opener against Navy in Baltimore will also include sophomore Darron Lee, who saw spot duty a year ago, and senior Curtis Grant.
Lee is more of a hybrid, a fleet 6-foot-2, 228-pounder who can cover a back in his area as well as level a runner on a sweep.
"I would definitely prefer on first and second down to have a hybrid-type of linebacker out there," Ash said.
Grant has been an enigma at Ohio State, an acclaimed recruit who has never really found his footing until a year ago. He had 52 tackles, four for losses and 2.5 sacks.
Virtually lost on the depth chart in Meyer's first season two years ago, Grant was voted a team captain and has been praised by the staff.
"Here is a guy that, once again, it's one of the great things about what we do for a living," Meyer said. "(It's great) to see young people grow up. And, boy, has Curtis Grant done a nice job."
The Buckeyes plan on playing quite a few people at the position. Now maybe the 'backers may be a backbone of the defense.
McMillan, one of the biggest linebacker recruits in the nation last winter, will see action. So will Chris Worley, Cam Williams, Trey Johnson and Devan Bogard.
Perry is certain that the position is stronger than it was a year ago when things wilted at the end.
"We've got more depth. We've got a different skill set right now," he said. "We've got hybrid kind of guys, then we've got some of the other guys like Raekwon, Curtis and myself who are a little bit of the bigger guys but can also run. And the scheme change of playing a more aggressive defense is a little easier to grasp and has helped us a lot."
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