Deep, Talented Buckeye Linebackers Focused on Fundamentals

Teradja Mitchell Ohio State Buckeyes Linebacker

Ohio State recruits linebackers as well as any school in the country.

Last season, they had five linebackers who had all been ranked as 5-star prospects in high school — and none of them won starting jobs.

Despite the lofty rankings throughout the room, the Buckeye linebackers didn’t play up to their expectations. At times they didn’t even come close.

It wasn’t all bad, of course, but there has been a noticeable downturn over the past two seasons at the position. Now, with new linebackers coach Al Washington at the helm, and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison helping out with the Sams and Bullets, positive changes are expected.

The issues last year were plenty, but it is quite possible the Buckeyes could start the same three linebackers they started last year, which would lend itself to the argument that most of the blame belongs to last year’s coaching staff.

After a spring camp with a good, long look at most of the Buckeye linebackers, there were only good things said by new and old coaches alike.

Fourth-year junior captain Tuf Borland was held out due to a minor knee injury. That injury allowed Washington and company to get some experience for sophomore Teradja Mitchell, which went very well. When Borland was healthy, all three of him, Mitchell, and junior Baron Browning repped with the first team.

Junior Pete Werner was the starter at Sam and senior Malik Harrison was the starter at Will, just as they were last season. They had talented players behind them, but nothing has really changed since the close of camp in April.

“Not really since the end of spring. Kind of the same guys in there, and they’re all battling,” head coach Ryan Day said. “We’ve got a lot of players there. We’ve got some good depth with a lot of experience. They’re a hungry group, now. They’ve read things. They’re ready to go, and they’re hungry, which is fun to be around. There’s not a lot of smiles on our faces right now, which you like as a coach. i think we’re going to see some great things from those guys this year.”

When Day said his linebackers have “read things,” he’s talking about the criticism from the media and from fans on social media. When a player can look at his phone and see an article about the question marks at his position or have notifications pinging him from social media telling him directly just how terrible he is at football, it’s not going to just slide away.

The real motivation, however, is simply upholding a certain standard at Ohio State. It just so happens that Ryan Day had to go get two former Michigan coaches to try and make that happen.

But if you think about it, nobody is as tuned into Ohio State’s standard of excellence as Michigan is.

“That’s a really talented group,” Mattison said. “That’s a group that when you get the 40 times that were just tested and you see them walking in that meeting room every day you just go, ‘Whoa.’ Some of these guys look like defensive ends and they run 4.5, 4.6. I think it’s a very talented group, I think it’s a very deep group and the big thing, they’re young. When you’re a young football player you always want to use just talent, but you can’t do that and be as successful as we want to be and we have to be.”

Mattison has also liked what he’s seen from his own personal group of linebackers at the Sam and Bullet.

“I think Pete Werner had a really, really good spring,” he said. “I think he’s going to be a heck of a football player. And Brendon White being a Bullet is like a Sam. He’s done a good job. Jahsen Wint has done a really good job, (K’Vaughan) Pope, we’ve got a lot of talent there.”

With the ongoing simplification of the defense as a whole, there is also a refocusing on the fundamentals. There were times last season when the linebackers weren’t as sound as they needed to be, whether it be their own personal physical breakdown or a mental lapse like losing contain.

“The biggest thing now is fundamentals,” Mattison said. “Really, really seeing if we can make that freshman be a junior. If you can make that sophomore be a senior. That’s what we’re trying to do every day and Al does a great job of that. We’re working on fundamentals, on footwork, on punching the sled, on all those kinds of things. Because of the talent level, it’s a very talented group.”

Simple fundamentals will eliminate most big plays on the ground. Few teams in the nation possess Ohio State’s speed and athleticism at linebacker, so if they simply eliminate the mistakes, they should be making plays all over the field this season.

8 Responses

  1. I watched Greg Mattison and Al Washington coach this spring while I was at the Ohio State football practice on two separate occasions. I can tell you that they are very, very good coaches. I also got to listen to them speak at the Ohio State Coaches Clinic in April. Ohio State is in very good hands with both of these coaches. The difference that I see is that the players are in better position to make tackles and the scheme has changed a little bit. The “bullet” position is going to be fun to watch, especially with Brenden White playing the position. I expect Ohio State to play with a lot of speed, enthusiasm, and relentless effort on getting to the football. Go Bucks!

  2. Ohio state had a couple of years where LB recruiting dropped off. They missed out on a couple and they had a couple of injuries. Bottom line, they were not ready when Mc Millon left early which they could have predicted. I think Borland was a huge reach and Werner was a rushed in two years ahead of schedule. The worst thing above all wrongs was the Schiano scheme. The second worst thing was the best man pretending to be a coach. I think they are still in trouble. At best, I expect them to be decent. I don’t see recruiting at the position to be elite though so this is going to be a concern for the next three years.

  3. Yes, there is a wealth of talent at linebacker. Two main issues last year were 1) not being in the right position to make a play and 2) poor tackling. Both of these issues can be addressed by good coaching. I think we have that now. I guess we will find out in a few months.

  4. Who’s the five linebackers with 5 star rating

    1. Posted by: Conway Jones

      Who’s the five linebackers with 5 star rating

      Dante Booker, Keandre Jones, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard, and Teradja Mitchell were all 5-star LBs at one point.

  5. What is wrong with this yahoo! Thinking “ The Ohio State “ needed coaches from ttun is be on me. Filling a colum with ink blots is easy by anyone! Providing good commentary is not your forte!

    1. You’re letting your hate for Michigan cloud your thinking here. It doesn’t matter where these two coaches came from. What does matter is they are proven, experienced very good coaches that the Buckeyes really needed. Our linebackers were horrible last year and it wasn’t because of their talent. It was very poor coaching that has been that way for a long time.

      Gerd, I appreciated the article and you’re not a Yahoo!

    2. “be on” beyond???
      :colum” column???
      Glass houses and all…

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