Spring football this year for the Ohio State linebackers began with seven players trying to prove they belonged.
Tuf Borland was the sure thing at middle linebacker, but an injury to his Achilles tendon knocked him out of action until around September. Justin Hilliard and Baron Browning then stepped in for him and competed to become the new — and possibly temporary — starting middle linebacker.
Veterans Keandre Jones and Malik Harrison played different positions, even when they switched to the position that the other was playing. Pete Werner did the same. Freshman Dallas Gant stayed at one spot the entire camp, which he is probably thankful for.
Fifth-year senior Dante Booker was recovering from a shoulder injury, but he will be in the mix this season as well.
This summer, freshmen Teradja Mitchell and K’Vaughan Pope arrive to get onto the field any way they can.
The Buckeyes left the spring without any starters at linebacker to this point, and even those who were once on the field with most of the 2018 linebackers aren’t sure what the future holds in terms of the depth chart.
“I have no idea,” former Buckeye linebacker Chris Worley said. “I do know that every year, every position is up for grabs. I don’t care how much you played the year before. You better come out and you better bring some s*** or you’re going to get passed up. We’ve seen that here.”
Worley saw it first hand a year ago when he went down with a foot injury and Borland stepped in for him and never relented. Even before Worley went down, however, there were plans to get more snaps for Borland.
Without Borland, there is even more confusion than before. Former Buckeye Jerome Baker is confident that whoever plays will be good enough to handle the job, however.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Baker said on the eventual linebacker starters. “I know when I was leaving, you could name a whole list of guys who could play. And that’s just Ohio State. We don’t really lose guys, we just reload. That kind of sucks for me. They didn’t lose me, they’re basically replacing me. It’s all good, and that’s Ohio State. That’s what our program is.”
Worley was able to watch some practices this spring and came away impressed with what he saw, but not even the access could make the picture any clearer for him.
“I’ve been to a couple of practices,” he said. “They’ve got some guys that can play, man. There might be a rotation, for real, kind of like the defensive line. I don’t know how it’s going to pan out over these next couple of months.”
Worley may not know who will be starting at linebacker for the Buckeyes this year, but he does know what they’ll need to do in order to win — and keep — the job.
“Each guy better bring their s*** or they won’t be playing, I can tell you that,” he said. “If you don’t bring your s*** here, you’re going to get passed up quick. If you get passed up, nine times out of 10 you ain’t gonna get it back. A lot of guys have had chances to play. It’s all about who is going to take advantage of it.”