Get ready for Dante Booker.
The Ohio State defense has only had two players start at their Sam linebacker position since they implemented their current defense back in 2014.
Those two players are Darron Lee and Chris Worley, and both came to Ohio State as safeties.
That background in the secondary helped them out there because they often found themselves in coverage out in space. More importantly, however, the athleticism necessary to play defensive back in high school translated very well to the responsibilities that the Sam linebacker has in this Buckeye defense.
With Worley returning in 2017, it was thought that maybe Dante Booker would move to the middle to replace Raekwon McMillan. Instead, spring opened with Worley in the middle and Booker — all 6-foot-3 and 240-odd pounds of him — walked out at Sam.
Former Buckeye defensive coordinator Luke Fickell tried to tell people a year ago how great of an athlete Booker was, but there was still surprise when he showed up at Sam instead of Worley or Jerome Baker.
Heck, there were some scouts in high school who thought Booker would eventually grow into a defensive end. Now he’s playing a linebacker spot that is intended to reduce the need for a fifth defensive back.
Back in the spring, Baker laughed at the notion that Booker wasn’t athletic enough to handle the job. He warned the media not to let Booker hear that talk.
“I’m sure if Book was to hear that, I’m sure he’d lose his smile,” he said. “The Will and the Sam you can change them in and out. They’re pretty much for the most part the same position. So as far as saying the more athletic guy is out there, that’s not really saying anything. You could put me or Book out there. I’m pretty sure if Book was to hear this he would go a little crazy.”
Linebackers coach Billy Davis was asked this spring why Booker was the right guy for the job. He gave no shortage of answers.
“Just because he is long doesn’t mean he is not explosive and quick,” he said. “He may be our fastest linebacker. He may be our quickest to be honest with you. Dante has got explosion in his body, and that is what you need in space. Tell me a receiver that is going to block Dante out there on a bubble screen. It takes a whole game up. Here comes a sweep, there’s Dante.
“Who is a receiver that is going to block him and make him stop from setting the edge and keeping that thing from getting outside? Then in coverage, if Dante is our fastest, now he has the best matchup for the coverage of the people they split out. There are a lot of reasons Dante’s body type fits. I am of the belief that the long, fast athlete — it used to be bad to be too long, it’s not that anymore.”
Booker was lost for the season after being injured in the opener against Bowling Green last year. He could have played later in the season, but the Buckeyes were able to redshirt him. Now he has two years remaining. After three years of waiting his turn — and actually earning a starting job last year, Booker showed no signs this spring of not being ready. In fact, he is hungrier than ever.
“I don’t know if it’s from being out, but Dante is just wired as a competitor,” Davis said. “If we go winner/loser in anything, you can ask any of the backers, everybody has got their money on Dante. He is going to win, and he is going to find a way. He has been snake-bit with some injuries and things, but he is as focused of a player that I have seen.”