When you look at Ohio State’s 2017 recruiting class, Pete Werner might be a forgotten guy. He wasn’t one of the Buckeyes’ 10 early enrollees, and the fact that he comes from Indiana may cause some to overlook him.
Don’t let the home state fool you, however, because Werner was one of the top high school linebackers in the nation last year.
He was a First-Team All-State selection following a senior year at Indianapolis Cathedral High School where he tallied 64 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and eight sacks, while missing three games.
Originally committed to Notre Dame, Werner was a player that Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell set their sights on very early on.
“We just kept hanging in there, hanging in there, because Luke Fickell loved him and so did I,” Meyer said on signing day. “We loved him. And then the tide started to change a little bit and we got him.”
What to Like
Pete Werner is listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and when you see him on film you can see how rangy he is. Eventually he’ll fill out even more and the “rangy” description will give way to something more intimidating. He can run sideline-to-sideline with effective speed. He can close quickly without giving too much ground.
When he is near the ball, he usually finds a way to bring it down.
Werner has the speed and athleticism to help out in pass coverage as well. In fact, while he was Cathedral’s middle linebacker, he also played both cornerback and safety when necessary. As a run stopper, he keeps his head up and if he takes a bad angle he is aware and agile enough to correct it.
He is also a determined blitzer who is blunt and doesn’t get caught up in small talk with blockers. He will do well with Urban Meyer’s “4-to-6, A-to-B” mantra just based on his blitzing alone.
As offenses become more and more versatile, defenses must do the same. Ohio State has recruited linebackers that can move around and play any of the three positions. In fact, current middle linebacker Chris Worley has already started at the Will and Sam spots in his career. When the Buckeyes open in Bloomington on August 31, he will hit for the “linebacker cycle” by starting at the Mike. Werner has this same potential.
He is the listed at the exact same size as current OSU linebacker Dante Booker when Booker arrived at Ohio State. Booker began his career at the Will and is now the Buckeyes’ starting Sam. Billy Davis may start Werner out at one spot, but then eventually move him to where the team need is greater.
From what Werner has shown on film, he will be able to handle either outside spot. He has been asked to cover receivers in the past, and he would be again at the Will or Sam. You can see him working all over the field here.
The Buckeyes signed two linebackers in the 2017 class — Werner and Baron Browning. Brendon White may eventually become a third, but for now he will sit tight at safety. Browning enrolled early and was placed at the middle linebacker spot. That should mean that Werner will start out at either the Will or Sam. The positions are interchangeable, it’s just at the Sam you’re dealing with the wide side of the field and will have more receivers to that side generally.
Ohio State currently has a glut of Will linebackers with Jerome Baker, Keandre Jones, and Tuf Borland. The situation at middle linebacker is no thinner, with Chris Worley, Justin Hilliard, and Baron Browning. As such, it looks like Werner may start out at Sam, where the Buckeyes currently have Dante Booker and Malik Harrison.
Though given the versatility of all nine of these linebackers, there could be some shifting at any point.
The Bottom Line
Luke Fickell has had a pretty good history of picking linebackers, and even though he won’t be around to coach Pete Werner, fans should be excited about the possibilities.
Werner has drawn comparisons to past Buckeye great James Laurinaitis. Laurinaitis, if you’ll remember, also started out his career at Sam linebacker before becoming a three-time All-American in the middle.
That type of legacy is a tad much to project onto Werner, but he’s got the building blocks of exactly what the Buckeyes are looking for. Werner is probably a safe bet to redshirt this season simply because of the depth ahead of him, but the linebacker situation in 2018 is going to be vastly different. Worley will be gone, and it is very likely that Jerome Baker will choose to leave early. Booker could do the same with a good season.
Ohio State hasn’t had to replace three starting linebackers since 2012. And as you no doubt remember, they actually needed a fullback to help them do it. The situation is much better now for the Buckeyes, however. If they have to do the same thing in 2018, they’ll be able to do it with a number of viable options, including Pete Werner.