Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Coming out of last season’s spring practices, junior linebacker Curtis Grant was tapped as the Ohio State football team’s starter at middle linebacker.
Three disappointing games into the season, Grant was relegated to the bench and found himself in the shadows of junior Ryan Shazier and, later in the season, converted fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren.
After not recording a tackle since Week 6 of the 2012 season – and completely missing out on the final two games – one of the big questions heading into this spring was if Grant was ready to make the jump back into the starting lineup.
An eight-tackle performance for the Gray team in the Buckeyes’ annual Spring Game and a strong performance during spring practices might just have been the final push Grant needed to make his way back to the top of the depth chart.
OSU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell has watched Grant mature this spring and noticed the re-emergence of his passion for the game.
“You saw him love to play the game, you saw his passion and energy,” Fickell said Thursday during interviews with the media. “For all the things that he needs to work on when he’s on the field and he’s playing like that with that passion and energy, those things shine above the things that he really needs to work on.”
Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said he thought Grant’s effort has been one of the highlights for the defense this spring.
“A guy that I’ve been really pleased with in the front seven is Curtis Grant,” Withers said Thursday. “Curtis, to me, had a productive spring, got better at a lot of things.”
OSU’s defense – in particular its front seven – might be a little inexperienced after graduation took 10 starters, including stars from last season such as Boren, defensive end John Simon and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who decided to skip his senior season and make himself eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft.
“The reality is that when you have some young guys, there are some different things that you do. When you have some young guys in the spring, sometimes that is the most exciting time,” Fickell said.
But even with the return of Shazier and the growth of sophomore defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, the question of who would step up as OSU’s middle linebacker seemed to be one of the most important in the offseason.
Withers said he wants to see Grant, who was not made available Thursday, grow as a player and a leader.
“The knowledge of what’s expected at his position,” Withers said. “The ability to play fast at his position, the ability to be a leader at his position, I felt like those things were improved in Curtis’ corner this spring.”
Fickell said the linebacking corps, while young, are ready to step up and take on their new responsibilities.
“I think we’re still growing, we’re behind where we have been in the past, but that’s obvious just based on our numbers and the guys that we’ve got and the youth that we have,” Fickell said. “But I could not complain one bit about how they came out every single day, the things that we graded on a daily basis their fundamentals, their passion, their energy for the game, their work ethic. Just young, just behind in those senses but there are some guys that really are maturing and stepping up.”
Now back in the starting lineup after a battle with sophomore linebacker Camren Williams in the spring, Grant will be looking to live up to his high ranking as a recruit coming out of high school.
Considered the No. 2 overall football recruit according to Rivals.com in 2011, Grant’s performances have yet to live up to the lofty expectations set for him, only compiling a total of 10 tackles over his first two seasons.
Grant, and his fellow defenders, will get their chance to prove themselves when the team’s season starts at Ohio Stadium on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.