The Ohio State linebackers have been under fire from offenses and outsiders for the past two seasons.
“Why are they so close to the line of scrimmage,” people ask. “If they weren’t so close, they would be able to make more plays.”
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano heard those criticisms, but likely only from his head coach.
Over the past two games, the Buckeye linebackers haven’t been asked to play up on the line of scrimmage as much as they were before. The results haven’t really been any different defensively, as the OSU defense allowed 42 points to Purdue and 31 to Nebraska.
Missed tackles continue to be an issue as well.
There is a bit of irony in the fact that the Buckeye linebackers have been the healthiest part of the Ohio State defense this season, and yet arguably the most inconsistent as well. The defensive line has missed starters for most of the season, and the secondary has been a mix-and-match M.A.S.H. unit for the last month.
“I thought our defense improved,” Urban Meyer said after the Nebraska win. “Obviously nowhere near we need to be, but they improved. We’re still stop-gapping. That means the lineups continuously keep changing because of injuries. But I think we should have everybody back next week if we don’t get a guy hurt in practice.”
The mention of stop-gapping may be why the Buckeyes aren’t willing to try new faces at linebacker. Perhaps the staff wants to keep things as stable as possible there and then the rest of the defense will come together around them.
And maybe the best options are currently playing right now.
Or maybe they’re just not being coached well enough to be a strength of the team.
“I see improvement,” Meyer said of the linebackers on Monday. “I see a group that was all four — three new starters. Tuf [Borland] was a returning guy, but Baron [Browning] playing and Malik [Harrison] full-time starter, and Pete Werner a first-time starter. So I’m seeing improvement, but we still have far too many missed tackles. We had six or seven tackles for losses that we missed. So that’s what I’ve seen.”
It is okay to question if Ohio State’s three best options are being put out on the field at linebacker. If players are being put in a position to make plays and they aren’t making them, then it isn’t crazy to ask if somebody else should be playing.
Are there any Brendon Whites at linebacker, for instance?
While very little has changed at linebacker for the Buckeyes — they continue to roll through the four players Meyer already mentioned, and last week fifth-year senior Dante Booker was added as well — Meyer says that they are always talking about personnel and making sure the best players are on the field.
“That’s constant conversation,” he said. “The missed tackles was the alarming thing this weekend. We’ll put the best players out there that we think can help us win the game.”
Based on two consecutive seasons of inconsistent play, however, the question becomes whether or not changes would even matter.