Boren To Be A 'Backer?
October 19, 2012
Zach Boren’s shift from the Ohio State offense to the other side of the ball is viewed by many as an act of desperation and a maneuver that is indicative of the troubled state of Luke Fickell’s defense.
After all, Boren, a senior co-captain, is a longtime difference-maker at fullback for the Buckeyes and was thrust into the starting lineup as a linebacker last week at Indiana.
However, Boren’s teammates, see it a different way.
“I’m fine with it,” tailback Carlos Hyde said despite the at least temporary loss of his most adept lead blocker. “Zach is just trying to help our team out. We needed help at linebacker so they called on him. We’ve got other guys who can step up and replace Zach, so we’ll be fine.”
Hyde added that Boren, who is as humble and dedicated as they come, is “easy to root for.”
Defensive end John Simon went a step further.
“It shows what kind of leader he is, what kind of person he is and what kind of teammate he is,” said Simon, also a senior co-captain. “It’s great to finally have that guy on the same side of the ball because there’s no one you trust more to go out there and battle for you.”
Head coach Urban Meyer approached the 6-1, 245-pound Boren on Tuesday of last week about the idea after it had been confirmed that Etienne Sabino, yet another senior co-captain, was out with a cracked bone in his leg, and freshmen Joshua Perry and David Perkins also were slowed with leg injuries.
Boren, of course, accepted the challenge and actually embraced the idea.
“We recruited him as a linebacker,” said Fickell, Boren’s new position coach and Ohio State defensive coordinator. “He was a linebacker in high school. He’s wanted to be a linebacker for three years here.”
Zach’s father, Mike, was a standout LB at the University of Michigan, and the younger Boren, who played at Pickerington (Ohio) Central along with his brothers, Justin and Jacoby, assumed he would follow in his dad’s collegiate footsteps.
He finally got that wish during the third period of practice on Tuesday when Meyer pulled him aside and expressed the need to have him play defense.
The practices went surprisingly well; the game even better as Boren led the team with eight tackles in the 52-49 survival with IU.
“He gave us a spark,” Fickell said.
With the attrition at LB, Curtis Grant apparently not ready to reclaim a starting role, and Storm Klein sometimes struggling when matched with skill players in pass coverage, the coaches decided Boren could stuff some inside plays and snuff out a few more because of his impressive football instincts.
That’s pretty much what he played on against the Hoosiers.
“I haven’t been nervous before a game in a long time,” said Boren, who admitted he was fearful he would forget the defensive schemes. “Even big games. I love big games. I get butterflies, but I never really get nervous.
“But after the first two series, it came back to me and I was just out there having fun.”
“I try to help him out and tell him what to do and everything, but Zach pretty much knows everything,” said starting OLB Ryan Shazier, a sophomore. “It wasn’t that difficult because he knows what he’s doing and he kind of knows what linebacker is. But since it was his first week at it, we probably couldn’t do some of the things we wanted to do. The coaches pulled back, I think.”
Possibly because of the vanilla alignment and a too-quick sigh of relief when the offense opened up some ground, the defense regressed in the fourth quarter at Indiana and gave up 22 points in the period.
Many members of that unit have vowed to have more focus and urgency when the No. 7 Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) host Purdue (3-3, 0-2) at the Horseshoe on Saturday (noon Eastern, ABC/ESPN2). Boren, meanwhile, believes he’ll be much better prepared.
“I know a lot more, just the basic coverages and stuff that we run, and I know what everyone’s doing,” he said. “Last week it was more (about) what I was doing. So I have a more basic understanding of the whole defense. I’ll be more well-off this week. I definitely was nervous last week going into the game.”
Boren knows he looks more like “Rudy” on the defensive side of the ball, but he isn’t worried about scoring any style points, just helping the Buckeyes straighten out their defensive woes.
“I’m built like a fullback,” he admitted. “I’m not built like a prototypical linebacker, I guess. But I’ve been playing linebacker since I was 5 years old. Linebacker is instinctively easy to me. It just comes to me.”
“I’m glad he’s over there,” Meyer said. “He brings confidence, he brings toughness, our players love him, and he’s as unselfish a player as we have. If you would said that back in April, that he’s our starting middle linebacker, I would have said no.
“Right now we’re putting an APB out for tough guys for the guys that take the center of the defense and make it whole. Zach has certainly helped with that.”
Meyer said he saw traits in Boren that made him believe the senior could also play defense.
“He’s a football position guy,” the coach said. “He’s always in the reverse arc as we call it. He’s not a body-heavy guy. He’s always got lateral movement. And on top of all of that, he’s a tough guy.”
Meyer the Boren switch “temporarily permanent,” but later added he may allow Boren to play both ways when Sabino returns to action.
“I’d love to hand him the ball, just reward him some time down in the red zone or something, use him on an iso,” he said.
In the mean time, Meyer and Fickell repeatedly have talked about getting the best 11 players on the field. That could include DE/LB Nathan Williams, who is expected back in the fold, and freshman DE Noah Spence as well as Boren.
“Players have to make plays when their play arises,” Simon said. “We’ve got to know what we’ve got to get done throughout the week and be prepared for Saturday.”
As for Grant, he doesn’t appear to be in the immediate plans. However, Meyer said no one is giving up on the talented sophomore.
“He’s fine, but the honest evaluation is that he still has a ways to go,” he said. “I just push our coaches real hard to be as honest as they can but don’t leave anything behind door No. 2. I see him out there grinding, working. He knows his weaknesses and he’s trying to get better. I like his attitude.”