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Amid Position Switch, Casey Sayles Leads Bobcats Defensive Line

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Casey Sayles is playing a new position this year. After lining up at defensive end for his first two years as a Bobcat, the defensive lineman has made the shift to tackle. A new position also comes with a new role, as the 19-year-old junior will be charged with leading the team as a captain.

His coaches thought he could be a good space-filler, which can happen when you put on almost 25 pounds in an offseason.

After the 2014 season, the Bobcats saw a big hole open up on their front line when Antwan Crutcher and Cameron McLeod graduated. That gap needed to be filled. Ohio coaches believed their young end could make the change, and he was more than capable.

“They saw my bigger frame and I successfully put on the weight,” Sayles said. “I’m 285 to 290 [and] still moving well.”

After the season ended without a bowl game trip, Sayles spent his winter break back home in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother made him plenty of home-cooked meals, and he made sure to take in an abundance of proteins. Upon returning to Athens for the spring semester, the team hit the weights hard for two months, and after just three months into the offseason Sayles had put on 15-20 pounds of “good weight.”

But it’s not just Sayles’s physical characteristics that look the part of an interior lineman. His play has shown the transition has been a success, too.

“He’s very good,” Ohio defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow said. “He’s quick off the ball and he’s strong in [the trenches].”

Switching from and end position as actually helped Sayles play better in that he now knows how to play all the positions on the line. It aids him in communicating with the ends, and makes it easier for him to understand what their assignments are on every play.

The change has been especially helpful for Sayles when it comes to lining up next to Tarell Basham. Being from the same class, the two have a close bond, and their time as defensive ends together has strengthened their trust.

“I know what he’s doing, and [Basham] feels comfortable with me knowing what he’s doing,” Sayles said.

That kind of trust exemplifies what caused the Bobcats’ players and coaches to elect Sayles a team captain.

“They respect him on and off the field,” Burrow said. “He plays hard and I think he is a team player. All those things add up to a captain.”

Sayles is humbled by the honor, and his family and friends back home, especially his mother, are incredibly proud. And while he has his teammates’ respect, they are still having some fun with the new title.

“People call me ‘Captain Casey,” Sayles said with a laugh.

Basham says the team, and the d-line in particular, is looking to have fun in 2015, and Sayles figures to lead the way.

The Bobcats’ defensive line is expected to be among the team’s strengths. Burrow looks for big things from Watson Tautuiaki and Cleon Aloese, who will be see most of their time at nose guard. On the edges are Kurt Laseak and Basham. The latter of which is looking for a bounce-back season after a disappointing 2014 campaign. A breakout freshman year put the pass rusher under plenty of pressure and on a good number of awards watch lists.

Even Sayles felt the pressure on Basham. But a new season means a new start.

“He (Basham) is loose now, and he’s going to have a big season.” the captain said. “And I’ll definitely help him on the inside.”

Ohio’s starting front line has plenty of experience, but Burrow says the strength of the unit will really be determined by its depth.

“You can’t just play for guys out there for 70 or 80 snaps,” he said.  “It’s just not possible. We have capable guys to back up, they’re just inexperienced so the more we can develop those guys, the better depth we will have, and the better it will be for those first four guys.”

Only time will tell if the younger linemen sure up the group.

Either way Captain Casey will be leading the way.