Juniors Etienne Sabino, Andrew Sweat joined in OSU linebacking duel
Published: Monday, August 09, 2010, 10:28 PM
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Andrew Sweat's version of a torn ACL was one of the strangest that Ohio State's team doctors had ever seen.
Last Sept. 26, the Ohio State backup linebacker made five tackles and recorded a sack against Illinois after starter Ross Homan left the game with a concussion. In that game, Sweat's left knee began to hurt, though there was no single play, no particular moment that caused it. A month later, Sweat was gone for the season, lost to knee surgery for something that had happened to him years earlier.
"They think it might have been in high school," Sweat said Sunday, though he'd never had any swelling in his knee.
Now, with a fully functioning left knee for the first time as a Buckeye -- "I feel faster, I honestly do," Sweat said -- he is involved in one of the few fights for a starting job taking place in preseason camp. It's two linebackers from the Class of 2008 for one spot.
Miami native Etienne Sabino was rated as the No. 1 inside linebacker prospect as a recruit. Sweat, from western Pennsylvania, was the No. 17 inside linebacker in the Class of 2008 according to Rivals.com.
Now they're going head-to-head. Unless Sweat redshirts.
Sweat played weakside and middle linebacker during his first two seasons, but he would be stuck behind seniors Homan and Brian Rolle there. So after he missed the last six games of last season and all of spring ball, he was moved to strongside linebacker to compete with Sabino, who has been running with the first team early in camp.
Linebacker coach Luke Fickell said he always does what he needs to do to get his best three linebackers on the field, so Sweat has been shifted to unfamiliar territory.
The Buckeyes like him, clearly. And that's the issue. Sweat said he's heard the talk of maybe taking a redshirt in the middle of his career. If he doesn't earn the starting job, he could bank a year and then have two seasons left to potentially start.
Homan redshirted in the middle of his career, though it was because of an injury, and it proved to be a bonus for him and the Buckeyes, as he's ready to star as a fifth-year senior. But for a team readying for a national title run, Sweat is probably too good to hold back. So into the fight he goes.
"I enjoy being in camp and enjoying playing SAM," Sweat said of his new spot. "It's new to me but it's fine, I like it. But if I'm not good enough at the SAM position, I guess I've heard redshirt talk."
"At first you thought about [a redshirt], to see how he felt," Fickell said. "But Andrew is not a kid who takes things slowly. He goes and goes. And he's one of the few guys I've seen who had a knee injury and came back and never had any setbacks."
His only setback is the time he's missed, especially the time away in the spring. Sabino grabbed the lead in the position battle and has held it through the start of camp. Sabino has 12 career tackles in 26 games. Sweat has 20 tackles in 16 games. Both are at that point where they're pushing for their careers to pick up speed.
"You come in and everyone wants to be a starter," Sabino said. "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."
"There are some great linebackers here," Sweat said. "It's kind of like you come in and wait your turn and you can't get down about it. You just keep working."
At the same time, they're both also competing with Tyler Moeller, who is working with the first-team defense at the star position, the defensive back spot that replaces the strongside linebacker in passing situations. Sabino is also working at the star. Barring injury, only one can be on the field at a time.
They've all waited and watched long enough.