Football Hayes & Cannon

Ohio State Spring Football Overview – Linebackers


“There’s nothing comes easy that’s worth a dime.”  ~ Woody Hayes

Born in Clifton, Ohio, on February 14, 1913, legendary Ohio State head coach Wayne Woodrow Hayes is still beloved and revered today by Ohio State coaches, players, and fans throughout the world.  It is because of Coach Hayes’ well-deserved reputation for hard work and love of strong fundamentals that led me to use this quote to describe the next position group to review this spring, the Ohio State linebackers.

Over the past few weeks, and continuing for a little bit longer, I am examining the various position groups within the team, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Game on April 14th. These pieces will look at the position groups from positions of least concern to greatest concern, based upon the returning players, incoming recruits, and performances that were seen throughout the 2017 season.

With spring practice, the threat of injury is of paramount concern, and the possibilities of transfers during/following spring practice can have an impact upon the position rankings. As always, it is my sincere hope that these articles will spark discussion and dialogue, and I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I look forward to writing them. Onto the subject at hand, the 2018 Ohio State linebackers.

Players Lost:  Jerome Baker (declared for the 2018 NFL Draft), Chris Worley (eligibility), Zach Turnure (eligibility), Nick Conner (medical)

Players Returning:  Baron Browning (Sophomore), Keandre Jones (Junior), Pete Werner (Sophomore), Tuf Borland (Redshirt Sophomore), Dante Booker (Redshirt Senior), Malik Harrison (Junior), Justin Hilliard (Redshirt Junior)

Incoming Recruits:  Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell, K’Vaughan Pope

Why did I rank the linebackers as a position of high concern?  To be fair, the 2017 Ohio State linebackers did not play up to the traditional standards Buckeye fans have come to expect from the position.  Was it a coaching issue, as Bill Davis was in his first year as Ohio State’s linebackers coach?  Were players not in the right positions?

Ohio State’s linebackers did seem to play better later in the season. That was after Chris Worley was moved back to his more natural outside linebacker spot while Tuf Borland took over the middle linebacker role.  Now, the three linebackers who finished the 2017 season are not around, with Worley and Jerome Baker off to pursue NFL careers, and Borland out for a period of time with an Achilles injury.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer stated on March 26th that Borland’s injury should not impact his 2018 season.  Nonetheless, it is concerning that the linebacker group will be missing a key player during spring practices.

Looking at the 2017 defensive statistics, Ohio State lost their leading tackler in Jerome Baker (72 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3.5 quarterback sacks), as well as production from Chris Worley (56 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback sack).  Throw in the fact that Tuf Borland (58 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback sack) is out for the spring, possibly longer, and add the loss of another experienced player in Dante Booker, and you will see why I have elevated concerns about Ohio State’s linebackers heading into 2018.

Speaking bluntly, I had concerns about the OSU linebackers coming into this spring, and the revelation of Tuf Borland’s injury has only amplified those concerns.  Malik Harrison has starting experience at outside linebacker, and will be favored to win one of the jobs.

The biggest positive surrounding the linebackers is the reality that the returning players will be given ample opportunities to compete at all three spots this spring.  Mixing and matching personnel groups, and trying to find which player can handle the various responsibilities, is what spring football is all about.

As Coach Hayes stated, if it comes easy, it does not mean anything, and the linebackers on the roster certainly know that winning a starting linebacker spot at Ohio State is anything but easy.  Despite my concerns, Coach Meyer said the following regarding the linebackers: “That position, once again, they’re not perfect and they don’t have to be, but they’re trying. I kind of like that position right now.”

With Borland out, now is the time for Justin Hilliard and Baron Browning to try and seize the middle linebacker spot.  Both Hilliard and Browning were highly-ranked recruits and should be able to use the remaining spring practices to solidify their standing.  Browning is one of the linebackers who will be moved around as they try to determine which role suits him best.  It is difficult to not see Browning playing somewhere, and with Borland’s injury, it may be at middle linebacker.

Regarding Justin Hilliard, Meyer stated: “I’m a Justin Hilliard fan.  I hope he continues to grow as a defensive player.”

Returnees Pete Werner and Keandre Jones have played on special teams , but both should have opportunities this spring at linebacker.  Jones has been playing with the first team unit at outside linebacker.  If Pete Werner continues to make plays like the one below on special teams from the 2017 season, he could move up the depth chart.

Early enrollee Dallas Gant has already caught Meyer’s eye and will be earning playing time in some fashion this coming season.  Gant was running with the second team defense at outside linebacker.

“He’s probably going to play,” Meyer said. “He’s shown enough … and I’m going to get him ready to compete on special teams, because he’s one of those very mature players to come right in. He’s not where he needs to be, but he doesn’t have to be. He just needs to give us everything he’s got, and he’s been doing that.  He’s a very smart player, too.”

More reinforcements are on the way with incoming recruits K’Vaughan Pope and Teradja Mitchell.  Will either player be able to get up to speed during fall camp to contribute at linebacker this season?  Like Gant, Pope and Mitchell may have a shot on the special teams units.


4 Responses

  1. Linebacker is by far the biggest concern on this team. No doubt in my mind and it’s NOT because of a lack of some incredible talent or lack of experience. Maybe with Greg Schiano helping at that position it will get better. A position group doesn’t go from “among the nations best, to among the Nations jokes” with a lot of returning playing experience and 5 star talent among them in a vacuum. The loss of Luke Fickell and the hiring of Bill Davis is what happened. Luke knows how to develop young players and blend them into a scheme. Davis is lost somewhere in rainforests of South America. He is among the 2 worst hires in CEO Meyers Ohio State coaching tree. The VERY worst is hard to decide between Davis and Withers. Both are pretty useless.

    We’ll see if Greg Schiano can help return that unit back into being among the Nations best.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Hoping that the talent rises to the top, no matter who it may be.

      Thanks again for the comments and for reading.

  2. I agree that the LB group is a position of concern, due to a) last year’s performance and b) the injury to Borland. OSU fans should be VERY worried about that injury, I hope the best for him!!
    I would love to see the emergence of Baron Browning and have confidence in Malik Harrison. Pretty sure that Booker will get the “senior participation award” and be allowed to start; however, I’m not at all convinced he helps the defense. OSU needs someone to have a breakout season at this group.

    1. The injury to Borland has me concerned also. I am guessing that Browning and Hilliard are going to step up, and it may be challenging to see how and when Borland can get back on the field. I am hoping Borland, and Ohio State, do not rush back, and further aggravate the injury.

      Thanks again for the comments and for reading.

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