Mystery Abounds, Yet Buckeye Coaches Excited About Linebackers

Buckeye Football Bill Davis, Baron Browning Ohio State Football Buckeyes


Normally, when a football team loses its only returning starter at linebacker to injury, the tension tightens and coaches begin to lose what little sleep they regularly subsist on. Thanks to the depth of the Ohio State linebackers, however, the Buckeye football coaches are more excited than worried about the possibilities.

Tuf Borland’s Achilles injury was certainly a blow, but the coaches are all confident that he will be back. They would probably be significantly more worried if they didn’t see positives every day from the linebacker position this spring.

“It’s a positive right now,” Urban Meyer said earlier in camp. “That’s one of our better units as far as getting better. Really talented guys.”

Borland was the only linebacker on the team who had wrapped up a spot, but even that spot is now up for grabs with a predicted September return likely eliminating Borland from starting the season opener for the Buckeyes.

Fourth-year junior Justin Hilliard and sophomore Baron Browning — both former 5-star recruits — have competed with each other for the middle linebacker spot. They were even throughout camp, but it was Hilliard who started with the first-team defense in the spring game.

At Will linebacker, the Buckeyes have rotated junior Keandre Jones and sophomore Pete Werner. Jones leaves spring with a head up in that competition as Werner made the move to Will during camp. Junior Malik Harrison entered the spring as the No. 1 Sam, and that is also how he leaves it. Behind him, freshman Dallas Gant played with exactly the kind of tenacity that the coaches love.

“I’m so excited about the group I’m working with,” linebackers coach Bill Davis said. “These guys are talented, they are all in, they are grinding, it matters to them, I’m excited about what’s going to happen, and I have no worries. The next man will step up. This is a talented group of players at Ohio State, at linebacker especially.”

Last season did not go well at times for the Buckeye linebackers, and Davis knows it. Ohio State needs a better performance from their linebackers this season, and they’ll be expecting to get it from a fairly untested group of players. This puts pressure on Davis to get the job done, and to get it done quickly.

“There’s always pressure, and I always have to get it right. That is my job,” he said. “I’ve got to get it right and there is the pressure to get these guys right. I’m confident about the way we’re handling it right now. You can only play the hand you’re dealt and I’m excited about the hand I’m dealt because these guys are going hard at it and they’ll be ready.”

Versatility Kills

The versatility and interchangeability of this particular linebacker corps also has the coaches excited. No player is locked into playing only one position. Harrison and Browning have both played Will this spring, and Jones and Werner have both played Sam. The ability to mix and match gives coaches options. It also gives players a better chance of getting onto the field.

All of this is good news for the coaches, and for the Ohio State defense.

“I really am excited about the linebacker position,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “We have several guys that can play. It’s a young position, so we’re just going to have to compete. There’s no rule that says only three can play either. We’ve done that at other positions. If we have more that we think can play well, we’re going to play more.”


One Response

  1. This should be one of our most athletic linebacker corps in quite awhile, maybe ever. Keandre Jones and Malik Harrison are very atheltic and diverse, and can run sideline to sideline and cover in space. Harrison reminds me of a bigger version of Darron Lee. Baron Browning has the size of a MLB but has the athletic ability and speed of an OLB. His closing speed in the spring game really stood out. Can’t wait to see what those guys do along with Werner, Gant, and Hilliard.

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