August 29, 2010

Sweat earns spot as starter

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - As linebacker Andrew Sweat started fall camp in good health there was no telling just what his role would look like for the Buckeyes this season.



But Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was quick to mention in his press conference following the jersey scrimmage that there was no way Sweat wouldn't be a constant contributor to the Buckeye defense this season.



"There were some people prognosticating that he might redshirt and then when (Brian Rolle) and (Ross Homan) leave, then he would have two years left," Tressel said. "Well, he is too good for that."



When Ohio State released their depth chart late last week it was obvious why there would be no consideration for a possible redshirt for Sweat. That's because Sweat was listed as the first team "Sam" linebacker in front of Etienne Sabino.



The coaching staff has always spoken highly of Sweat, who had acknowledge he had been involved in talks of possibly taking a redshirt year if he couldn't overtake the starting position from Sabino.



By doing so, Sweat would give himself the opportunity to start for the Buckeyes for two seasons while continuing to develop as a redshirt in his true junior year.



But it was evident how much the coaching staff admired Sweat's play on the field - even dating back to last year when he was the fourth linebacker on the field for the Buckeyes defense.



"The 2010 Buckeyes need him," Tressel said, "and he's going to be a good player."



Sweat missed all of spring football as he continued to recover from a torn ACL and Sabino was given all the reps with the first team defense as the strongside linebacker.



As a result of those reps - and an otherwise encouraging spring - Sabino was figured to be the favorite heading into the fall after mainly contributing on special teams in his first two seasons.



Meanwhile, Sweat was having a productive season as a reserve linebacker last year, but a game against Illinois on Sept. 26 last year would be his last. Already having posted five tackles and a sack in that game, Sweat began to feel pain in his knee.



Though there was no single play that Sweat can go back and point to as the play that caused the injury, he learned his season would be finished shortly after that game as a result of a torn ACL.



"There was some talk that I may have torn my ACL in high school," Sweat said. "There was scare tissue and it started bothering me in the Illinois game. We got an MRI and it showed a torn ACL. I didn't expect it and they didn't expect it."



Though Sweat had already sat out five months heading into the spring, he said the doctors wouldn't clear him to play until he had a full six months of recovery time. Heading into the fall, though, Sweat said he was 100 percent healthy and ready to compete with Sabino.



"I felt great in the spring. They let me do a little bit but I was obviously hoping I'd get in," Sweat said. "It honestly feels better than it did before."



Sweat got his first reps at "Sam" linebacker this fall - but has played well enough to overtake Sabino for the job.



While there is still no telling how much time Sabino will get in come Ohio State's season-opener against Marshall Thursday night, he said at the beginning of fall camp that he'd continue to give his all for the team regardless of his role. Sabino was listed as the No. 2 middle linebacker on the depth chart released late last week.



"You come in and everyone wants to be a starter," Sabino said at the team's photo day. "I don't think anyone coming into a school like this is thinking they only want to play special teams. But I've known my role in the past and I'll keep doing the same thing to help my team."



Sweat has drawn the attention of all the coaches this fall and has done enough to earn himself a spot in the Buckeyes' starting lineup. Though he is still fairly new to the strongside linebacker position, he is confident he can contribute to this team in a big way.



"I just try to work hard every day in practice and I think I have a better understanding of the linebacker position as a whole conceptually," Sweat said. "I think they feel comfortable putting me in there."




Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.






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