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.
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.