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.
Even I expressed my confidence in the OLine article about Coach Studrawa’s. Unfortunately a lot people still envision false start after false start and dreadful drive and terrible power trap blocking at the worst times the last 2 years. People are like SHOW ME. 2019’s OLine is going to deliver, and I’m just certain of it.
BTW Tony…………..Linebackers and offensive line are STILL the top of the complaint department everywhere I go and remain the 2 biggest concerns on the team heading into the season. Just like the last couple of years.
Tom and I talked about the confidence we have in the OL headed into camp and how odd it is that we feel this way despite the four lost starters.
Hate to say it, but Al Washington will be largely defined by his player personnel decision, GAME 1!!! Yes, if he rolls out Borland and Werner to start game 1 then many will write him off instantly…
I know Al’s pop, and I’m 100% sure that Al IS 100% an upgrade to Mr. Can’t Develop Plug ~n~ Play Only, who was in Columbus this time last year because of his dad’s pedigree. I’m not going to beat up the secondary coaches, except to say that Grinch SHOULD have gone to Meyer/Day and warned him/them that Mr. Exotic’s foolishness with scheme was a train wreck that gave FULL advantage to the opponents offense in both timing and coverage. If the heart (linebackers) are absentee landlords when it comes to cleaning up and forcing route adjustment throughout the second level post snap, the secondary is going to get lit up. I will forever be angry over Schiano’s mishandling of the Ohio State linebacking unit. Who the hell, except on stunts, uses their line BACKERS to keep the defensive line clean? Linebackers clean up what the defensive front creates and/or misses at the point of attack? That was ridiculously STOOOPID and obvious to everyone except Schiano and Davis. There’s a real reason why Tuf Borland made his stats at or behind the LOS, and it wasn’t because his play was of much, if any value to the defense over-all. From wrong reads, to poor gap integrity, to awful finishing, scheme and results were off the rails a major train wreck.
By game 2 every opponent on the schedule KNEW they could exploit the Buckeyes. No one was home at the heart of the defense they would take apart if they had just a half a tick extra in timing. They also knew that Tuf Borland was “injured” and not just playing hurt. He had no base under him and it made him a sitting duck for even half-ass offensive blocking
Watching the games it was obvious that Baron was an outside linebacker. He can cover a lot of ground at either SAM or WILL, and, his pretty exceptional skill set is nullified in the middle in a 4-3 base scheme. MAYBE he can be an effective WILL or MIKE in a 3-4, but that’s just guess work. Fortunately he has a solid development coach he’s mentoring under now.
Pete Werner never should have left playing safety. He’s a tremendous athletic but it was obvious that he lacked the strength of a traditional linebacker. Put him at safety and/or bullet and I suspect he could give Brendon or Jahsen a serious run for the starting Bullet position. Maybe his hand work was bad taking on and getting off of blocks because he was too worried about his gloves.
Al Washington has the most work to get done in a short amount of time. IMHO he’s the right guy, and once he gets a live game feel of his charges strength’s and weaknesses, he won’t hesitate to make the right calls. One thing is sure. He will be earning his paycheck as the mechanic with the most to fix. Even more than Coach Studrawa.
@James A. MillsQuestion. . .Ohio State was able to really exploit the Michigan defense last year with crossing routes and such. With Washington and Mattison there now, did Ohio State write the script for the destruction of their own defense?
It seems like there was a similar article about Bill Davis (hurts to type his name) last year, and that I made the comment that these coaches already know the “to do list” because they are coaches. Well, that was cockeyed optimism at it’s best, because the defensive staff was largely a self involved/ completely detached train wreck (depended on the guy, take your pick).
As a result, coaches like Washington are under a microscope for 2019. My best hope is that 3 LBs separate themselves from the others to such a degree, that Washington can rightfully approach Day and beg for them to play most of the snaps. The idea of ‘”lots of guys” playing makes me nervous, it’s not a rec basketball team. The mishandling of this unit in 2018 makes it a tough task indeed, should LBs who got a bunch of snaps last season be told they won’t be playing nearly as much in this one. This position group causes me more concern than the DBs or OL. We will know what sort of thinking prevailed with the LBs the moment a game comes around that is competitive.
I’ve stated before…Someone is NOT gonna play! And how come Pete Werner spot is always assumed. Everyone else seem’s to have to compete. His spot always seems guaranteed. Hmmmm?? He made like 2 plays last year. Borland made way more plays.. But…get’s heckled a lot more. So,if Harrison has a spot locked up already,and so does Werner. Plus…the bullet position. That only leaves one spot left. Mitchell,Browning or Borland. Would suck if Mitchel and Browning sat.. And Werner and Borland start again. Who starts?? Who sits?? Two of them will not play. Should be FUN.
I hope you mean “cover receivers” not linebackers. I’m just saying.
Looking for the Silver Bullet linebackers to re-emerge.
Ton of confidence in Al Washington.
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