Spring’s Unanswered Questions for the Ohio State Linebackers

Teradja Mitchell Ohio State Football Buckeyes

Every year following Ohio State spring football we recap what happened position by position.

Who stepped up, who stepped back, what got fixed, and what didn’t?

With 12 of the 15 spring practices cancelled due to the pandemic, however, essentially nothing happened, nothing got fixed, nobody stepped up, and no questions got answered.

So since we can’t talk about which questions got answered, we will instead discuss which questions still remain.

Position by position.

We have already discussed the quarterbacks, the specialists, the cornerbacks, the receivers, the defensive ends, the running backs, and up next are the linebackers.

Is Baron Browning really going to be used as a pass rusher?

Walking into the end of one of the three spring practice sessions early last month, senior linebacker Baron Browning was seen working with sophomore defensive end Zach Harrison on some pass rush moves. It’s not unusual for a linebacker to be doing extra pass rush work given their status as blitzing pass rushers, but this felt like more.

When speaking to reporters a few minutes later, Browning was asked — perhaps jokingly — if he was moving to defensive end. He responded that he didn’t know because that decision was still up in the air. Part of the reason that decision was still up in the air is because Browning was nursing an injury that was going to limit him early in practice.

Heading into camp, he had already moved away from the middle linebacker spot that he co-occupied with Tuf Borland last year. Instead, he was learning both the Will and Sam. Based on other things seen in those first couple of practices, it seemed like Browning was going to be working at Sam, with an emphasis on third-down pass rushing.

Nothing really materialized there because of the cancellation, but Browning’s role will certainly be one to watch this season.

Is Pete Werner really moving to the Will?

After playing so well last year as the Buckeyes’ do-it-all Sam linebacker, it was a surprise then to see Pete Werner playing inside at the Will in the first two practices.

However, when you consider that the Will linebacker generally leads the Buckeyes in tackles, the move speaks to the trust in Werner from the staff. Nothing was definite yet after talking to Werner and position coach Al Washington, but as long as there is somebody who can handle the Sam (Baron Browning?), then this move would make some pretty decent sense.

Werner has moved around in a camp before, so who knows if it will stick. The possible Browning move to Sam is not unconnected.

But again, spring is a time for experimenting, especially with experienced players.

How are all of these guys gonna play?

Ohio State has four seniors and three junior linebackers, each of whom could probably start anywhere in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes have done a great job of rotating on defense over the last few years, but playing seven linebackers may be putting that to the test.

This is perhaps one reason for getting Baron Browning some work as a rusher. On passing downs, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tuf Borland come out and either Dallas Gant or Justin Hilliard step in with Pete Werner. Hilliard was at the Sam with K’Vaughan Pope this spring, and both guys played well when given the opportunity last season. Would Browning sliding down on passing downs give them more snaps? It sure couldn’t hurt.

Then you also have Teradja Mitchell, and what kind of minutes is he looking at if he’s behind Werner? The staff didn’t seem in too much of a hurry to put anybody else on the field at Sam other than Werner. They certainly have more faith in Mitchell getting some snaps at Will, which could allow Werner to sit some snaps each game like the defensive line does.

And we haven’t even gotten into the second-year linebackers or the true freshmen. But maybe we can do that another day.

9 Responses

  1. “must have” “big, smart, fast”?

    “he is ‘slower than’, ‘faster than’?

    does ‘more talented’ mention big, smart, or fast?

    ===perhaps we could ‘cogitate’ about the concept and practices of “comparing”?

  2. To play D1 FBS ball you must be three things. Big, fast and smart. If you aren’t big then you play FCS. If not big or fast then D2. To play at top ten team like OSU then you must be all but especially smart. The game and reads are complex. There have been a few times where we seen OSU get a great recruit and he never plays much. It is an unspoken truth as to not embarrass the players BUT ask the coaches why – it comes down to the mental. Rapid information processing and decision making earning trust from coaches. Separates the players from the non-players. If a talented player isn’t playing it is likely that he is making too many mental errors. MLB is the QB of defense making all the reads and calling the alignments. Tuf is in there because he apparently does that the best and is fast enough most of the time. If the smarts are equal then the more athletic player plays.
    Hawk, Laurinaitis, Rolle, Shazier, McMillan, Tovar, Johnson, Spielman, Katzenmoyer.

  3. Love tuf but his movement since his Achilles injury has made him a liability. Browning werner and Mitchel. I would say should be starting 3. Browning is gonna surprise some ppl this yr now he’s in his natural position.

  4. This is why recruiting the very top is huge and recruiting above average is not for Ohio State. You do that for a couple of years in a row, and you end up with average having seniority that is hard to overcome with pure talent. The new young talent does not end up on the field, and we get to watch mediocre play against top teams.

  5. It’s beyond silly that Pope, Mitchell and Gant don’t get more snaps. Love Tuf’s leadership but it’s painful to watch him play against good and fast teams. Werner is good, but not great. Would love to see different guys play more.

  6. The answer to question 3 is “they don’t”. I thought that if we had spring ball we were going to see a serious Exodus at the LB position… like 3 to 4 transfers. I just didn’t see certain guys being willing to sit behind other guys for yet a 3rd year. Without spring ball however, I think the prospects of transferring may be a bit lower. You don’t know what’s going on anywhere else. Nonetheless, I think we may still see 1 to 2 transfers.

    Other than that, its going to be the status quo at LB. Baring will rotate in and out with Hilliard, Mitchell, and Pope. Borland will come out but in those instances it will be a nickel look so no other LB gets inserted.

  7. Tuf out on 3rd Downs? Do we not need speed on first and second?

    Like to see Werner Browning outside and Mitchell or anyone else in the middle

    1. Clemson went 95 yds in 4 plays… so the idea that you have downs to spare speed is kind of silly. Just saying.

      1. That’s what I’m saying. Mentioned taking Tuf out on 3rd Downs because he is slower than our DEs. Why have him out there at all. Get the more talented kids coached up and out there

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