Being the middle linebacker in football is about more than just making tackles, just like being a quarterback is about more than just making throws.
The middle linebacker is usually the leader of the defense — the quarterback of the defense — and his ability to lead the defense is just as important as his ability to make tackles.
A knowledge of the entire defense is a must, and it is this need for a greater understanding that has landed Chris Worley in the middle for the Buckeyes.
Replacing Raekwon McMillan was one of the biggest question marks heading into 2017 and there was plenty of speculation about who would step into the middle and take over the signal calling for the Silver Bullets. Ultimately, the Ohio State coaching staff decided on the redshirt senior Worley.
“It’s a little bit of everything, with probably the key piece the strong leadership,” explained linebackers coach Billy Davis. “He’s our quarterback. That Mike position is a quarterback, so he has a great ability to line everybody up and then do his job. We decided collectively as a staff. We just looked at what we had. One of the things spring ball is about is for seeing who fits where. We’ll move them around and see where we can fit them.”
The main point of contention for many when it comes to moving Worley into the middle is the thought that he’s not the biggest guy. Urban Meyer even mentioned after the first spring practice that he wasn’t sure that Worley could hold up over the entire course of a season.
Worley, however, made it a point last week to let people know that he was never the 228 pounds that he was listed at a year ago, and as of last week was tipping the scales at 240 pounds.
The extra weight is good, but Worley’s speed and athleticism is what will be on display most of the time.
“I think with all the spread offenses you face, and when you think of Chris Worley, and some say he might not be big enough to play there, you probably cover more like nine or 10 spread teams, so he’s got all the size to play in there at Mike, especially in the college game,” Davis said. “And winning contact is about technique as much as anything else. He’s a great leader in there, he’s very vocal, everybody follows him, he knows what he’s doing, so he’s a great quarterback for us.”
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes and positions, and even though Worley wasn’t the guy last year, he was still a leader of a very productive defense. This year, however, things are about to pick up for the former Glenville alum.
“I feel like Raekwon was kind of the leader, that’s how it happens, the middle linebacker-quarterback, they have to be the leader or the team won’t go, but I was still a leader last year,” Worley said. “I helped a lot of guys out, but I have to move it up a notch now that I’m moving to Mike. I feel like I’m ready for it.”
Being the starting linebacker is a lot to ask and a very demanding job. For some, it’s too much. For others, it’s right in their wheelhouse. In his time at Ohio State, Worley has had to learn both safety positions and all three linebacker spots, and now as the team’s middle linebacker, he also has to direct the defensive linemen in front of him.
Chris Worley is basically the guy who starts his career in the mail room and ends it as the company’s CEO. He knows the entire company inside and out.
“I definitely feel mentally ready,” he said. “When I first got here I had to learn basically the whole defense because I didn’t know what I was going to play. It was a struggle but it also made me better today. It’s a lot easier now to understand the concepts of the defense because I can understand defenses from a safety position and also linebacker. If you know linebacker you have to know the front, so I understand the whole defense. I really thank that process for that.”
The good news for the coaches is that his fellow teammates have nothing but confidence in Worley to get the job done because they’ve seen how he operates. As one of the few redshirt seniors, he has always provided an example of what the coaches wanted to see. He battled with Darron Lee three years ago and when he didn’t win the job, he never stopped trying to win it back.
Playing the walk-out linebacker a year ago, Worley often found his assignment taking him away from the play, which can be a downer for any linebacker. Now in the middle, however, he’s out to be a downer for opposing offenses.
“It means the world to me,” he said of playing the middle. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted. I’m a grinder, I like to hit people, so just to give me more ammunition in my tool box to go and try and hurt some people, that’s what I like to do, so it’s a blessing to be in this position and it’s up to me to sort of live up to expectations.”