Last year was not the kind of season the Ohio State coaches were expecting from their linebackers. Injuries knocked out two starters, and an ill fit in the middle was causing problems even before the injuries ever took hold.
Chris Worley opened in the middle, but was slated to give ground around the very same time he suffered a foot injury. Dante Booker then went down later in the season. Jerome Baker didn’t have the season that many expected him to have, including himself.
Overall, it just wasn’t what people had become accustomed to. As such, there are concerns that the same thing can happen this season.
Despite middle linebacker Tuf Borland suffering an injury this spring, and no definitive starters emerging, the Buckeye coaches didn’t share any type of concern after spring ball was done. In fact, they only relayed confidence in the talent on hand.
Five different linebackers played routinely last season, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how well they are playing. For the Buckeyes, however, it wasn’t always great.
The struggles have led to the linebackers being arguably the biggest concern for Ohio State this year, which is why they will be watched closely by the coaches once fall camp begins.
So what will defensive coordinator Greg Schiano be looking for to ease his concerns about this group?
“The middle’s different than the two outside,” he said this spring. “Even though the two outside are different from each other, they’re not as different as the middle linebacker. But to me, you train them in linebacker skills and then what they lack is experience — cumulative reps at that position. But the linebacker skills are the same. So there is carryover.”
The spring was an overarching teaching session featuring cross-training across the linebacker spectrum. That training had to be put on hold, however, once Borland suffered his Achilles injury. At that point, the coaches had to realign their focus with an eye towards the fall.
“Certainly when Tuf went down, it made us alter kind of our thinking because you don’t know,” Schiano explained. “I mean you hope he comes back, but how do you know? A guy has surgery and then you have to make plans for both his return and if possibly he doesn’t make it back when we think he’s going to. So that makes all that a challenge.”
There is difficulty in getting players reps at various spots when there is a hole in the middle to fill. They did the best they could, but the adjusted process was a bit different than they had planned on.
The good news is that the players handled the hiccups this spring well, which has the coaches feeling good about the adversity that they are sure to face this season.
“The positive, there’s a lot of really good young football players in that room and they’ve made huge strides,” Schiano said. “They need to continue to make them for us to be a really good defense. But I like the way they work and I like the way they approach their jobs, so I think they will.”