Sports

Even subtracting Shazier, No. 5 Ohio State thinks it's much improved at linebacker position

  • FILE - In this Dec. 31, 2013, file photo, Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant catches a pass during NCAA college football practice in Davie Fla. Ohio State's linebackers, vilified for their play at times last year, have regrouped without NFL first-round pick Ryan Shazier. Coach Urban Meyer believes newcomers Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan, and the continued development of Grant and Joshua Perry, have brought improvement. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter, File)

    FILE - In this Dec. 31, 2013, file photo, Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant catches a pass during NCAA college football practice in Davie Fla. Ohio State's linebackers, vilified for their play at times last year, have regrouped without NFL first-round pick Ryan Shazier. Coach Urban Meyer believes newcomers Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan, and the continued development of Grant and Joshua Perry, have brought improvement. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 4, 2014, file photo, Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan runs drills during spring NCAA college football practice  in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State's linebackers, vilified for their play at times last year, have regrouped without NFL first-round pick Ryan Shazier. Coach Urban Meyer believes newcomers McMillan and Darron Lee, and the continued development of Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, have brought improvement. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

    FILE - In this March 4, 2014, file photo, Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan runs drills during spring NCAA college football practice in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State's linebackers, vilified for their play at times last year, have regrouped without NFL first-round pick Ryan Shazier. Coach Urban Meyer believes newcomers McMillan and Darron Lee, and the continued development of Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, have brought improvement. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 4, 2014, file photo, Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry watches drills during their spring NCAA college football practice in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State's linebackers, vilified for their play at times last year, have regrouped without NFL first-round pick Ryan Shazier. Coach Urban Meyer believes newcomers Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan, and the continued development of Perry and Curtis Grant, have brought improvement. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

    FILE - In this March 4, 2014, file photo, Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry watches drills during their spring NCAA college football practice in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State's linebackers, vilified for their play at times last year, have regrouped without NFL first-round pick Ryan Shazier. Coach Urban Meyer believes newcomers Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan, and the continued development of Perry and Curtis Grant, have brought improvement. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)  (The Associated Press)

The linebackers took a lot of the blame last year when Ohio State lost its final two games.

Now they're trying to be the focus of a rejuvenated defense.

Despite losing leading tackler Ryan Shazier, who went in the first round of the NFL draft to Pittsburgh, everyone is optimistic about the position.

With returning starters Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant being joined by upstarts such as Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan, the Buckeyes have reloaded heading into Saturday's season opener against Navy.

Coach Urban Meyer raves about the improvement he's seen in Perry and Grant. Plus, a new defensive mindset has also brought on a fresh assessment of the position.

Now, the 'backers may be the defense's backbone.