Without Tuf Borland, Leadership Was Tested at Linebacker for Buckeyes

Bill Davis Ohio State Linebacker Coach Buckeyes Football

Ohio State must replace 49 career starts at the linebacker position this season. With two-year starters Jerome Baker and Chris Worley now gone, the Buckeyes not only went about replacing their production, but also their leadership.

That process took a hit this spring when third-year sophomore middle linebacker Tuf Borland suffered an Achilles tendon injury. The injury took Borland out of action, and it eliminated part of the growth process that every team needs.

The show must always go on, however, and with the importance that Urban Meyer places on leadership, Borland’s loss didn’t mean the end of building leaders.

In fact, it will be an ongoing process all season long.

“The competition is going to push them and drive them to get better, but it’s a good group of like-minded young men,” OSU linebackers coach Bill Davis said this spring. “You can tell when a group likes each other and has that chemistry, and this group has it.”

The Buckeyes left without knowing who their starting linebackers are going to be this season, but they weren’t too concerned about that. Overall, it is a versatile group, as shown by juniors Keandre Jones and Malik Harrison moving back and forth from both outside linebacker spots.

As third-year players, Jones and Harrison know the ropes, which allowed them to show the coaches and their teammates that they can lead.

Without Borland, fourth-year junior Justin Hilliard and sophomore Baron Browning manned the middle. In Ohio State’s defense — and most others — the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and requires leadership in action. While Borland’s injury wasn’t a blessing in disguise, it did allow more players to emerge as leaders at a position where there was so much missing.

“We had a bunch of guys take steps in leadership, but even Tuf is growing into that role,” Davis said. “It’s exciting to watch them take their leadership role. We talk about leadership being more about actions than words, and I think that’s kind of what they’re trying to do.”

Once Borland went down, the linebackers participating this spring had a grand total of one career start. With that kind of inexperience, leadership can be hard to come by.

But this is also a group that has had to wait their turn, and now their respective leadership styles are starting to shine through.

Borland will be back in September, and when he does return, the Buckeye coaches aren’t expecting him to be the only leader in the linebacker room.

“Some of the personalities lead more,” Davis said. “Keandre’s got a very strong personality in the room. Malik is a playmaker that’s got a lot of people looking at him. Baron’s a young man and Justin Hilliard are both Mike backers that are in charge and in front of people a lot.”

3 Responses

  1. The post by Chris Perry makes a lot of sense & is well written. Thanks Chris excellent post!!

  2. Until proven wrong, I absolutely believe that the LB play in 2017 was solely Davis’ fault! He is the only substantial variable you can look to. Guys who were experienced (Worley), possible first rounders (Baker), etc. instantly looked average and lost in Fickell’s absence. Moreover, the stability at LB with Fickell as the position coach was nothing short of remarkable…so again, to have the play at LB go down the drain immediately upon his departure clearly suggests a coaching failure. I pray it doesn’t take Urban 2 to 3 years to figure this out like it seemingly did with the O.C. situation because a continued deficiency with LB coaching could be equally as costly.

    If Davis is in fact a good coach, I hope he is turned loose to do his job and isn’t handcuffed as Offensive Coordinator Wilson has been (with QB Power Dive). Hire talent and let them coach. First question though is does Davis have the coaching talent???

  3. Last year was the first time, in decades, that a LB did not make 1st, 2nd or 3rd team All B10. This will be a telling season for Davis. If this group underperforms again, he’s out. The unit is littered with 4/5 star players. No way it should ever lack leadership or have a down year.

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