August 11, 2010

Sabino battling Sweat for starting spot

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell noticed the change in Etienne Sabino during the course of spring football.

"He has become a little bit more of a reactor," Fickell said back in April.

Though Sabino has clearly never struggled with the physical tools to be the next standout linebacker at Ohio State, his decision making and understanding of the game seemingly held him back from playing more on defense for the Buckeyes the past two seasons.

Sabino - now entering his third fall camp with the Buckeyes - has a unique combination of size, speed, and strength, the ideal qualities to every linebacker. But hesitation due to a lack of true understanding held him back from making plays.

Now, Sabino said, he no longer has to think before instinctively attacking the offense, hence Fickell's "reactor" comments.

"I definitely have a better understanding of the defense overall," Sabino said at the team's photo day on Sunday. "In the past I knew what I was doing but now I have a better understanding of what everyone else is doing.

"I think I have a better grasp of the defense and feel more comfortable," he continued. "I guess you're just able to go and you have no worries. You know what you're doing and you just go."

At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Sabino certainly carries the right frame for the prototypical linebacker at Ohio State, but his speed has made him much more of a weapon. While Sabino didn't carry too many reps at linebacker in his first two seasons, he has become a mainstay on special teams for Ohio State.

In his first two years with the Buckeyes, Sabino has tallied 12 tackles - six in each both his freshman and sophomore season. But back in the spring after the loss of Austin Spitler, Sabino began repping with the first team defense at "Sam" linebacker.

Carrying over to the first few practices of fall camp, that's where Sabino has stayed.

But the competition isn't over yet.

Sabino got all the reps with the first team during the spring while Andrew Sweat continued to recover from a torn ACL in the spring. Though Sweat has found himself working with the second team this fall, he is in a battle with Sabino for playing time.

Fickell explained that Sweat was probably healthy enough to participate in spring ball, and even with attempts to sneak into drills, the staff kept him out for precautionary reasons.

Now Sweat is back in full health and intends to push Sabino.

"I felt great in the spring but it was only five months (of recovery) and they ask for six to be cleared," Sweat explained. "They were hesitant, but they let me do a little bit. It feels great now. It honestly feels better than it did before."

Sweat has been moved to "Sam" linebacker this fall and this is the first feel he has had at the position, though he is capable of playing at any of the three linebacker spots.

Strongside linebacker is the only linebacker position on the field that doesn't return a starter for the Buckeyes, so the move of Sweat helps push Sabino in terms of competition.

"I have never played 'Sam' before but I was moved over there and I am trying my best," Sweat said. "I am just going to play 100 percent and everything will be taken care of. I just try to work hard every day in practice."

Rumors cycled online in the recent months that Sweat may be considering a redshirt depending on his outlook of playing time this fall.

Though Sweat is the fourth linebacker on the field for the Buckeyes right now, he didn't say he was completely opposed to that route if that's what Ohio State's staff feels.

"If they think (redshirting me) is best for me, I'll do it, but I'd obviously like to play. I sat out five games last year and in the spring, so I'm definitely biting at the gum to get in and play," Sweat said. "I've had conversations about it, but I guess we'll see how camp goes and the coaches will ultimately make that decision."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for He can be reached at

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