Boren changes jobs to help out No. 7 Buckeyes

Boren changes jobs to help out No. 7 Buckeyes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Coach Urban Meyer put out an APB for tough guys.

The search ended when Zach Boren turned himself in.

Injuries, departures and disappointing play led Ohio State's coaches to look for somebody - anybody - to help out at linebacker.

They got a volunteer - their starting fullback.

``It was kind of a test for the first four periods of practice that I watched,'' Meyer said of the trial period a week ago when he first tossed Boren into the mix on defense to see what would happen. ``He changed the entire dynamic of practice, because so much of playing football is the leadership value. Who is the tough guy on the defense?

``Who is the guy that's going to stand up and take charge?''

Boren was the answer. Now the former star linebacker in high school has made the transition from offense to defense after three years on the other side with the Buckeyes. Not only that, he led the team in tackles in last week's 52-49 win at Indiana.

He'll be in the starting lineup - at linebacker, that is - when the seventh-ranked Buckeyes host Purdue on Saturday.

A week ago, he relied on his instincts because he didn't really know what he was doing.

``Defending the run game is all instincts, it's just lining up,'' he said. ``But pass game, you really have to know your coverages and who you're matching to. That's the part you really have to know the defense inside and out. That was the hardest thing. I messed up a bunch of stuff, too.''

Meyer and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell were looking for an attitude more than perfection to prop up a defense that has given up yardage and points in clusters. So they tapped Boren to jump-start the defense.

Now, it's not a good sign when an undefeated team is moving its starting fullback midway through the season to a position he hasn't played in years. It's also not a good sign when that same fullback ends up leading the team in tackles without really having any idea what he's doing.

Finally, Boren's presence didn't stop the leaks that have resulted in Ohio State plummeting to 69th in the country and 10th in the Big Ten in total defense (giving up 400 yards a game). The Buckeyes surrendered 437 yards and 38 points to Nebraska before Boren shifted, and 481 yards and 49 points to Indiana with Boren on defense.

But many believe the stopgap measure may just strengthen the unit in time. And when a captain and two-year starter is willing to give up the equity he's built in his position to try something entirely different, it's a lesson for the entire squad.

``It's about unselfishness,'' Fickell said of Boren's switch. ``That's the thing that we're really, really trying to focus on, guys doing whatever's best for the team. If they really, really, truly believe they're here for something bigger than themselves, then a guy like that who can take himself out of a spot over on offense that he might be catching some balls and scoring some touchdowns into a position where, `Hey, this is where this team really, really needs me' to provide depth and to provide a spark.

``This is a great example of what unselfish leadership can do.''

Boren, who was pressed into duty on defense when Etienne Sabino was sidelined with a broken leg, will be joined by Ryan Shazier and freshman Josh Perry at linebacker - one of the most disappointing positions for the Buckeyes despite their 7-0 start. Several top recruits have left the program due to injury or dissatisfaction, others (such as acclaimed signee Curtis Grant) haven't panned out and most of the freshmen are not ready to take on the workload.

So Boren changed sides of the ball.

``Lacking any coaching, obviously,'' Fickell said. ``Coaching can be overrated at times. The first thing I said was he naturally gave us a spark.''

Now Meyer says the move is ``temporarily permanent,'' whatever that means. There's still a chance that Boren might get to carry the ball again. But, for now, he's a linebacker. Luckily, his No. 44 is interchangeable at either position.

``I wouldn't really say `home,''' Boren said. ``I've been playing linebacker for so long - I haven't played it for 3 years but I've been playing it my whole life playing football - your instincts take over after a while.''

Meyer is amazed - in both a good way and a bad way - that the move was made.

``I'm glad he's over there. He brings confidence, he brings toughness, our players love him. He's as unselfish a player as we have,'' he said. ``It is a little bit of shock. If you'd said that back in April - he's your starting middle linebacker - I would have said no.''

Boren's switch has inspired his teammates.

``That's the ultimate sacrifice,'' offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. ``He's the best fullback in the country and he's going to go over to linebacker and give up three years of playing football and maybe being All-Big Ten to do all he can for the team playing defense? We love him for that.

``That's just the guy that he is.''


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap

Quick Links

Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night


Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 109-101 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Another loss: The Wizards just can't seem to put together a full, 48-minute performance, a collective effort good enough to beat a team that isn't among the worst in basketball. On Monday, they saw a Pacers team that despite missing Victor Oladipo is still very good, and they fell short of what could have been an epic comeback.

The Wizards stormed back from down 25 points, only to collapse in the final minute and get outscored 11-4 to close the game. The final result was another loss, their second straight. They are 11-16 on the year with the Boston Celtics up next on Wednesday.

The defeat spoiled another big night from Bradley Beal. He had 30 points, the fourth straight game he's dropped 27 or more. 

2. Otto went down: The Wizards found themselves in a tough situation on Monday with only nine available players after Otto Porter Jr. left in the first half with a right knee contusion. John Wall and Dwight Howard were already out, meaning the Wizards were down three starters. Markieff Morris then got into early foul trouble, giving head coach Scott Brooks a real dilemma.

Though Porter's injury doesn't seem serious, the Wizards can ill-afford losing anyone right now. It's worth a reminder that, as bad as the Wizards have started this season, they have done so with few injuries to blame.

3. Oubre came through: Not long after Porter went down, Kelly Oubre Jr. stepped in to fill the void. He had one of his best games of the season with 23 points, five rebounds, three steals, and a block.

Oubre shot poorly against the Cavs on Saturday, but overall he has been playing very well lately. This was the fourth straight game he's reached double figures and the third time in that stretch he's scored 19 or more.

In addition to scoring, Oubre did a lot of the things Brooks wants him to do. He drew an offensive foul, brought down two offensive rebounds and forced a few turnovers. Oubre's best attribute is his length and his ability to cause havoc defensively, especially off the ball. He came into this game sixth in the NBA in total deflections and second in deflections per 36 minutes.

4. Dekker debuted: The lack of options for Brooks detailed above and the lopsided score at least brought one positive and that was the debut of Dekker, who checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Dekker actually played fairly well considering the circumstances and happened to help key a nice little run for the Wizards. Washington closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run once he came in. On one play during that stretch, Dekker got a steal and then finished with a dunk on the other end.

The run with Dekker on the floor extended to 19-0 in the fourth quarter and kept the Wizards within striking distance the rest of the game. Maybe Dekker was the missing piece all along.

5. Turner is good: For the second straight game, the Wizards had no answer for an opposing big man. Last game it was Tristan Thompson, this time it was Myles Turner. 

Turner had a huge first half on the defensive end and found his scoring groove in the second half. He had a monster stat-line of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks.

The strategy for opposing teams at the moment appears to be to attack the Wizards in the middle, knowing they are just trying to make do with Thomas Bryant and a collection of small-ball fives. Teams may keep doing that until the Wizards stop them.


Quick Links

Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

USA Today Sports Images

Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

Entering 2016, Bryce Harper was ready to take over the world. After putting forth one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent memory in 2015, he was rewarded by being named the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. The following season, he was prepared to take another step forward.

Instead, he slashed .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs, and questions abounded about why he was struggling.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, one of baseball’s most accomplished reporters, wrote a story late in the season about how Harper had suffered a shoulder injury, according to a source. The Nationals vehemently denied these reports at the time, claiming that their doctors were not aware of any medical issues with Harper’s shoulder. Mike Rizzo said he asked Harper directly if he was hurt and was told no.

At this year’s Winter Meetings, Verducci spoke with NBC Sports Washington, and he doubled down on his reporting.

“2016, of course, that’s when he injured his shoulder. It was a slide in Milwaukee, about one-third of the way into the season, was never quite the same.”

Whereas in 2016 Verducci simply referred to “a source,” it appears this information came from Harper directly.

“As he told me,” Verducci says, “He could not lift weights upper-body wise through the rest of that season, he lost weight, didn’t have the same kind of power. He was compromised even throwing on defense, he had to compromise by playing much more shallow.”

“The numbers in ‘16 really are a function of the injury.”

One concern Nats fans have about signing Harper to a major deal is how his numbers in the post-MVP years have failed to match 2015. According to Baseball-Reference, his combined Wins Above Replacement total from 2016-18 is 7.5. His bWAR in 2015 alone was 10.0. Still, Harper never had an OPS+ below 114 in that stretch. Even his “down” seasons would still be considered quality years for most big league hitters.

Harper is also just now entering his prime, however, so presumably many of his best seasons are still to come. For one MLB insider, at least, there’s no real cause for concern about a long term deal as long as Harper can stay healthy.