If you have any questions you want rambled on about, feel free to shoot me an email or respond in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter or over on the forum or key a brief question into the side of my car. I’m pretty breezy.
Question: I’m not a technical football guy, so I wanted to get your thoughts on our linebacker play last year. Looked pretty sketchy vs. Oklahoma, Iowa, and maybe even ttun. Perhaps in some other games where we outclassed opponents too, though I think it was much better the last half of the year. I know we had injuries/guys out of position, and Baker’s year was confusing to me. That said, it seems way too simplistic to me (and again, I don’t really know) to think that Fickell left and in year one the LBs suddenly struggle because of a new position coach. — Nicholas S.
I am not a technical football guy either. I’m self taught, which means that I could successfully perform an emergency tracheotomy with a pen, but I would most definitely be sued for doing so.
We have talked about the linebackers in depth on Accost the Field from time to time. For me, it is the most interesting position to watch this year. For some, there may be as many doubts as expectations. Last year put a stain on plenty of Scarlet and Gray hearts and minds, but I keep going back to the change in the defense when Tuf Borland was at middle linebacker and Chris Worley was not.
As I wrote about back in the spring, only one time in Borland’s nine starts last year did the Ohio State defense give up a touchdown drive that wasn’t aided by a turnover or a special teams gaffe. That means that only one time when the Buckeyes punted or kicked off to an opponent, did they then drive down for a touchdown. And it didn’t happen until the Michigan game.
So no, I’m not a football guy, but that seems like a pretty significant thing. No, he didn’t start against Oklahoma or Iowa or Penn State, but he still played in the latter two games and things didn’t go great. Still, he was clearly the best option in the middle for the Buckeyes and things went better when he was in there. He is back — eventually — and we should expect him to play even better than he did a year ago.
I don’t know how to explain Jerome Baker’s performance. Maybe he was looking ahead to the NFL, or maybe Greg Schiano and Bill Davis put too much on him because he was in his second year as a starter. Let’s not forget, as a sophomore in 2016 when he had to step in for Dante Booker, Baker was often lined up incorrectly according to his coaches, but was talented enough to make up for it. Maybe there was paralysis by analysis last season because he knew more and was being tasked with more.
If you look at his stats, they were pretty similar to his “impressive” 2016 season. He had 83 tackles (45 solo), 9.5 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks in 13 games in 2016. In 13 games last year, he finished with 72 tackles (42 solo), 8.0 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks.
The problem I have with pinning everything — or the bulk of everything — on Bill Davis is that there were so many reasons we can point to for their struggles, such as injuries, players playing out of position, a new coach getting to know his players, or Greg Schiano simply asking too much.
I think losing Raekwon McMillan after the 2016 season and not having somebody in the pipeline to step in for him set them back. That forced Chris Worley to play a position that clearly wasn’t for him. He played better outside, and so did the defense when he finally moved there last year.
The Mike is the quarterback of the defense, and we’ve seen what happens to an entire offense when the quarterback is having issues. It wouldn’t be unfair to think there would be similar struggles on defense if the middle linebacker is having issues. Let’s not forget what the 2012 defense looked like before Zach Boren moved over from fullback.
That’s why for me, I expect much more from the linebackers this year. Tuf Borland is the middle linebacker. He gives the defense stability. Or at least he will when he comes back healthy. Everything else will then cascade down from there.
The unfortunate thing for the Buckeyes, of course, is that Borland is recovering from an Achilles injury and we don’t know how much — if any — fall camp he’ll have. So we may see another slow start with a middle linebacker playing out of position this year, but Mike candidates Justin Hilliard and Baron Browning have already played more in the middle than Chris Worley ever did before he was given the job.
The number of options makes this position incredibly intriguing, but the stability of Borland should make the intrigue a good thing this year, instead of the bad thing it was a year ago.
If there are issues again this season, however, then the fingers will point even more forcefully at the man doing the coaching.