Ryan Shazier | 6'2, 222 pounds | Outside linebacker | Ohio State | Junior
2012 stats: 115 tackles, 5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 11 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles
The pressure is on outside linebacker Ryan Shazier heading into his junior season at Ohio State. On the Buckeyes' front seven, he's only starter back on a team poised for a run at a national title. Shazier is coming off a stellar sophomore season where he was named a first-team all-conference player.
In the last few years, there have been several top-level weak-side linebacker prospects. Shazier is in the same mold of highly athletic outside linebackers as Zach Brown of the Tennessee Titans and Lavonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He's not a powerhouse, block shedding linebacker. Instead, Shazier is at his best when he can and get after the football.
What he does well
From purely a stats standpoint, the first thing you notice about Shazier is the 19 tackles for loss he had in 2012 – the most in the Big Ten. But how does a 222-pound linebacker that doesn't rush the passer much get so many tackles for loss? For Shazier, it's all about getting a fast jump on the snap and closing speed.
Shazier's game is centered around being one of the best athletes within five yards of the line of scrimmage and getting a fast read on the play. When Shazier is being active and playing fast, he is effective.
In Shazier's favor is his penchant for making plays. Perhaps his signature play of 2012 came against Wisconsin. On 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Shazier forced a fumble by Montee Ball. Ohio State went on to win the game 21-14 in overtime. Shazier's playmaking is also put on display in pass coverage. Ohio State's defense calls for Shazier to drop into a shallow zone and cover an area. That often means playing tight ends or running back, or on occasion wide receivers underneath. Shazier is quick to break on the ball to make a play. He doesn't have the type of hands that will equate to many interceptions, but he does enough to break up passes.
What he needs to improve on
Needs to improve on his tackling to become a more forceful linebacker. Shazier doesn't always execute proper tackling fundamentals and can slide off ball carriers. This was most evident against California last season when undersized freshman running back Brendan Bigelow shed Shazier on an 81-yard touchdown run.
At times last season, particularly early on, Shazier was a little too active. He got out of control and would overrun the play. It wasn't until the Purdue game, the eighth game of the season, where Shazier looked more disciplined and calmed on the field.
In the spring, Shazier admitted he didn't have a full grasp of the defense, and it slowed his play. He sat out 2013 spring practices because of a sports hernia. While rehabbing, Shazier has been working with defensive coordinator Luke Fickell to learn the defense.
As most sophomores do, Shazier steadily improved as the season progressed. From a physical standpoint, he possesses the optimum traits for a weak-side linebacker.
How Shazier performs this season will depend on how he mentally responds to filling the leadership void left by John Simon and Zach Boren on the defense. Based on past recruiting success, Ohio State clearly has the talent to fill in. But Shazier will be depended on to run the front seven. Can he do that while still playing at a top level? That may go a long way in determining if he's ready for the NFL or needs to play his senior season.
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