Potential to production

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The tapes from the last three games look like a highlight reel. It's a glimpse into the future, a freshman getting a chance to start late in the season and responding by going on the kind of tackling tear that can only raise expectations.

Or those same tapes can look like an instructional video. It's a chance to reflect on the errors of youth, the plays that weren't made and the assignments that were missed by a player still early in the learning process.

It all depends on the perspective. And when Ryan Shazier reflects now on his emergence late last season and rewinds those films, the Ohio State linebacker is watching with a critical eye rather than patting himself on the back.

"I really can see a lot of mistakes I made," Shazier said after practice Tuesday. "Even when I was watching the Florida and the Penn State games, I see a lot of gaps I should have filled, a lot of tackles I missed and everything when I look back it."

Considering that Shazier made 33 tackles over the final three games after he was inserted into the starting lineup, it might be hard to imagine there were many plays he didn't make as an injury replacement down the stretch.

Maybe the sophomore simply grades himself tough, or maybe he was simply able to cover up a few mistakes thanks to his natural athleticism. But either way there was still room to grow for Shazier in the offseason, and the way he wrapped up his freshman campaign obviously didn't slow down his momentum as he prepared for a full-time starting job after his breakout audition.

"I took a lot of confidence out of it because it actually let me learn a lot more about the play-calling and what I can do in the game," Shazier said. "I gained a lot of confidence, and now I'm feeling pretty good in the defense.

"It was difficult [waiting] because everybody wants to get on the field. But I had a senior in front of me, Andrew Sweat was teaching me a lot of things. ... I just waited for my opportunity, because I knew once he was gone I was going to come in and take advantage like I am."

Shazier technically didn't even wait until the senior was gone to capitalize, earning his first start against Penn State while Sweat recovered from a concussion -- and instantly turning heads with 15 tackles. He followed that up with eight more against Michigan despite dealing with a knee injury, and he ended his run and the season with 10 tackles against Florida in the Gator Bowl.

Since then, Shazier has added 25 pounds to his frame. He's had eight more months to learn the playbook and become familiar with the expectations as a regular in the middle of the defense. And he apparently hasn't lost any of the traits that made his future appealing to defensive coordinator Luke Fickell even before his physical skills were validated on the field.

"He's still that same person," Fickell said. "He was a leader from the day he came in. He really has that natural ability to do that. He's going to be in a situation where he has to do it a lot more, so we're going to push him to do that. Definitely a guy that if you try to evaluate how important is football to him, it's up there -- and it shows.

"It wasn't just the way he finished. It was what you saw as a young kid, and I think that's what we're trying to see from a lot of other guys. You want to see what guys have that 'it' to them."

Shazier started building his case down the stretch last year. He should have more than three game films to support it soon.