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COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State football team wrapped up its sixth practice of the spring Friday afternoon on another brisk and windy day in Columbus. Sporting helmets, shoulder pads and shorts once again, the Buckeyes spent the first half of practice outdoors before moving inside to negate some of the elements.

Afterwards, two senior linebackers – Ross Homan and Brian Rolle – met with local reporters along with co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell to talk a little defense, with emphasis on the linebacker corps.

Homan and Rolle were two of the top playmakers on defense in 2009, combining for more than 200 tackles (Homan 108, Rolle 95), 12.0 TFL and six interceptions. And that doesn’t include Rolle’s game-saving interception return on a two-point conversion attempt in the season opener that helped the Buckeyes seal the win against the Navy Midshipmen.

But as expected, much of the talk Friday centered around the development of the younger defensive players and filling the vacant starting linebacker spot once occupied by graduating co-captain Austin Spitler. The leading candidate thus far looks to be junior Etienne Sabino. The 6-3, 240-pound linebacker has been waiting his turn patiently the last two years behind the likes of James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and Spitler. But now, the former Florida high school All-American is ready to take full advantage of his opportunity and showcase his talents in 2010.

“It’s time (for Sabino),” Fickell said. “He has become a little bit more of a reactor. He’s a kid that is very intelligent when you study how he learns, that he really wants more information … he’s a processor. He thinks things out. He’s only 19. I kind of wish he would have been a redshirt guy because not many guys play their freshman year at 17.

“Last year he might have been frustrated on how he was playing or what he was doing, but he never showed it. He never complained, moped around or whined about it. He’s a mature kid that tried to get better every week.”

The North Miami Beach native should prove to be a fine addition to the Silver Bullets this season, a unit that has relied on its strength and athleticism to dominate the Big Ten and develop a reputation as one of the most suffocating units in the nation year in and year out.

“Sabino has been a great worker,” Homan said. “He’s a weight room warrior. He’s an unbelievable talent and is working so hard every day to get better.”

Rolle echoed Homan’s comments and has been pleasantly surprised by Sabino’s work ethic off the field as well.

“He’s spending a lot of time in the film room,” said Rolle. “Sometimes he’s even calling me to go in and watch more and more film. He has a great work ethic, wants to learn and learn and be perfect.”

Of course, there is plenty of talent lurking behind Sabino and the others. Look for juniors Andrew Sweat and Tyler Moeller, sophomore Storm Klein and redshirt freshmen Dorian Bell and Jordan Whiting to challenge for playing time as well this season.

More quotes from Friday …

Senior linebacker Brian Rolle
One his new leadership role
“My major is sociology. I want to be a teacher and help people so I love the new role that I’m in. I take that to heart that the coaches now look to me to lead this team.”

On his advice for the younger players
“You have to be patient and wait your turn. In a program like this, within two years if you do everything right, everyone is going to know your name because that’s how it works here. Same applies for guys like Dorian Bell. He told me today ‘hey, I’m going to play this year’. And I hope so. He’s been working hard and doing the small things and that’s how you get on the field. He, Storm and Jordan Whiting have been doing a great job this spring.”

On sophomore linebacker Storm Klein
“Storm is asking a lot more questions this year. I think last season he would hear it and just go do it and maybe not totally understand. Now he’s asking some of the older guys more questions when he’s over on the sideline.”

Senior linebacker Ross Homan
On junior linebacker Andrew Sweat
“Andrew is a great player for us. Tough, solid player. Very smart. Distinctive. Hopefully we get him back pretty soon and he’ll be ready to go.”