Ohio State entered spring ball with a two-year starter returning at middle linebacker in Tuf Borland, as well as his top two backups.
Borland finished third on the team with 67 tackles last season, despite returning while still recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.
While Borland got up to speed, it was Baron Browning starting in his place for the first two games. Browning ended up starting three games last year, finding playing time throughout the season. He finished with 23 tackles.
Mitchell, a true freshman last season, did not see much time on defense, nor did he record a single tackle. Despite the lack of production, there is nothing but confidence in Mitchell’s potential from his coaches.
Borland missed the second half of the spring after taking a helmet to his knee, which allowed both Browning and Mitchell to get plenty of time with the ones this spring. Browning was also out for a couple of practices, allowing Mitchell to get more time with the ones than anybody could have anticipated.
By all accounts, Mitchell stepped up this spring and performed commensurate to his lofty recruiting rankings. He is still young, however, and prone to little mistakes. Fortunately for the Buckeyes (and himself), he has enough ability and instinct that he is generally able to overcome his errors.
In Saturday’s spring game, it was Browning with the first-team defense, which tells you that he has played solidly this spring as well.
The media will speak with the Buckeye assistants this week in order to recap the spring and preview the summer, so we’ll get more information on the battle at middle linebacker from linebackers coach Al Washington in the days to come.
As of right now, however, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day believes that Mitchell and Browning have done enough to earn an open competition with Borland when fall camp gets underway in late July.
“I think it’s going to keep rolling,” Day said. “Tuf’s been out with his knee. Baron’s had his hamstring. Teradja’s been there every day and doing a good job on special teams. I think it’s going to keep going into the preseason when we get everybody healthy and let those guys play.
“We are going to play a lot of depth too. That’s something that we believe in. Whether it’s offense or defense, the more depth you have, the better, and let those guys play. But I don’t think any of those decisions will be made until the preseason.”