Fall camp gets underway for the Buckeyes on Friday and every single Ohio State position coach will have a mental list of things that they need to get done.
In fact, they may actually have a physical list as well.
Speculating as to what might be on each assistant coach’s list is always a fun exercise, and there are no shortages of items that will need to be addressed.
Yesterday, we began this series by looking at Greg Studrawa’s list, so today we’ll jump over to the defense and give the twice over to the linebackers and position coach Al Washington.
Washington is in his first year with the Buckeyes and takes over a unit that was criticized on a weekly basis last year.
With a number of talented options on the roster — and the implementation of the Bullet position, putting together a good group of linebackers shouldn’t be as difficult as it has been the previous two seasons.
In order to make this happen, Washington will no doubt have a list of things that will need to get done.
It might look something like the list below.
1. Determine Tuf Borland’s footing.
Everyone saw Tuf Borland laboring on the chase at times last season. They also saw him bite on a juke here or there and not be able to recover in time to make the tackle. Al Washington needs to determine whether or not that was due to injury, or simply a result of Borland’s limitations. Even without being 100% healthy, Borland still managed 9.0 tackles for loss, which was the most for a Buckeye middle linebacker since Brian Rolle’s 11.5 in 2010. Let’s also not forget that last season’s defensive scheme did not put the linebackers in a position to track the ball down because they were placed so close to the line of scrimmage at times. There were plenty of reasons for some missed plays by Borland last year. Washington just needs to figure out how many of those reasons are no longer in play.
2. Is Baron Browning a Mike or a Will?
Now entering his junior season, Baron Browning needs to find a home. He was the No. 2 middle linebacker this spring behind Tuf Borland, but has also done work as a Will. The No. 1 Will is once again Malik Harrison, while the race at middle linebacker also contains sophomore Teradja Mitchell. With the new defense, the Will and Mike are both inside linebackers, so there is an interchangeability that Al Washington wants from the two positions. Browning still needs a home, and preferably one that gets him on the field quicker. That being said, because of his versatility, he could play any of the three linebacker spots if needed.
3. Get a look at the young guys.
The Buckeyes signed three linebackers in the 2019 class, assuming Craig Young is a linebacker, that is. Since none of them were enrolled for the spring, Al Washington hasn’t really seen them on the field yet. The current Buckeye linebackers are a deep group, which is going to make it difficult to get much run for the freshmen. But it’s not just the rookies who are young, because there are three second-year linebackers on the roster as well. Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, and K’Vaughan Pope all saw the field on special teams and a bit on defense last year. All three were in the two-deep in the spring. While the four veterans of Tuf Borland, Malik Harrison, Pete Werner, and Baron Browning saw the bulk of the action last year, it wouldn’t hurt to get a nice, concentrated look at the young guys during camp as well.
4. Figure out who does what best.
Obviously, right? But it’s a bit more nuanced. Ryan Day says he wants to see more linebackers play this season, which either means a rotation or packages — or likely both. But in order to know who fits best in which package, it’s going to take some work and then some assessment. Is Tuf Borland the early-downs MLB and then replaced by Baron Browning on passing downs? Where is Teradja Mitchell most effective? When will the Sam play most, and in which spots would Pete Werner be more impactful than K’Vaughan Pope? It could get to the point where the linebackers almost become positionless. Yes, Dallas Gant ended the spring as the No. 2 Will linebacker, but if he does something particularly well that they want the Sam to do, maybe he gets plugged in there. And maybe Baron Browning’s home is a “what” or “when” and not a “where,” meaning it’s a series of tasks or situations, rather than a position. Co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley has talked about his desire to teach all of his defensive backs how the secondary works, that way he can plug in anybody in a spot and the defense continues. You could see the same thing with the linebackers, though it would be foolish to ask the Sams to do what the Bullets do in terms of coverage.
5. Throw everything at Brendon White
As the Bullet in this Ohio State defense, Brendon White is essentially the fulcrum of the Silver Bullets, and so Al Washington will want to make sure he can handle the load from all sides. How is he as a pass rusher? Can he hold up against the run as a linebacker? Can he cover tight ends and slots in man situations after playing mostly zone last year as a deep safety? Washington will need to find all of this out in camp so they’ll know what they can and can’t ask from him during the season.