Do you smell that in the air? No, not the stench of NBA basketball. Wrong again, it is NOT the stench of the Browns fans trying to convince the world that Saquon Barkley is a horrible NFL prospect while touting Josh Allen as a franchise quarterback.
This smell is greatness, this smell is real life football being played in Columbus.
As I mentioned on the Sons of Schmidt, this is the first time in a long time where we have some legitimate battles to look forward to in camp. If you think about, almost every major opening over the past few years has had someone groomed for that position. Last year, you had Denzel Ward ready to step up. Billy Price had already announced he was taking over at center. Parris Campbell was the guy at H-back. There really wasn’t much drama outside of right guard and strong safety.
This year is completely different, there are around nine spots where no one is sure who is starting. That is not even counting the WRs and DTs, where rotation happens so much the starters don’t matter.
On offense, you have quarterback, right tackle, right guard, and center. On defense, you have all three linebacker spots, one cornerback spot, and free safety. Each of these positions has two or three guys who could make a case for that starting job. The competition for these starting spots is going to be insane over the next five months.
With all that build-up, it’s time to discuss which positional battle I am looking forward to the most.
Sure, most of you will say the quarterback battle. I mean, it’s hard to argue that it is not the sexiest of all the battles. Whichever QB takes the job (psst it will be Dwayne Haskins), is set up to guide possibly the most explosive offense Ohio State has had in a long, long time.
But like Tony wrote, the quarterback battle is pretty low on the list of things Urban Meyer and the fan base should be worried about. Whether it is Joe Burrow or Haskins (or Tate Martell for all of you who think he has a chance), the quarterback position will be more than okay. All three guys are very good quarterbacks who will have two elite running backs behind them and about 49 experienced receivers to throw to.
Realistically, the floor for any of the three should be set at Barrett’s passing numbers last year of 3,053 yards and 35 TDs.
So if it is not the quarterback battle, which one am I looking forward to the most? Honestly, I’m not sure. Like with much of what Tony does, I haven’t really thought this out beforehand, so here I am rambling and rumbling trying to come up with something, but in the end I just have to go with the easy way out and say the linebacker group as a whole.
Out of all the battles, this is the one where there are too many different directions it may go.
Last week, I was able to put together my depth chart with the quiet confidence only someone like Jim Harbaugh knows at a teenage sleepover. I feel like I nailed every starter (Spoiler Alert: I didn’t) except for the linebacker spots.
At linebacker, you could come up with about 10 different personnel groupings and be able to justify each and every one of them. Just think, we are around 5 years removed from seeing a starting fullback moved to middle linebacker in order to jump-start production.
Fast forward to this group now:
5-Stars: Baron Browning, Keandre Jones, Dante Booker, and Justin Hilliard
4-Stars: Pete Werner, Tuf Borland, Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell, and K’Vaughan Pope
3-Stars: Malik Harrison
The amount of talent in this room is remarkable. You have 10 extremely capable guys chomping at the bit.
The story lines will be there all spring and fall. Will Borland be able to hold everyone else off at middle linebacker after a pretty successful season? Will Jones finally get his shot after patiently waiting his turn? What in the heck will Urban do with Browning and his freakish ability? Will this group of linebackers completely quit playing against some random team like they did last year?
There are so many questions with this group and I’m not positive they will be answered anytime soon.
Outside of the offensive line, there is not a group that will dictate how this season goes more than the linebackers. If they can play decently and eliminate the quick outlet passes, it will open the doors for the defensive line to dominate.