Football

New faces the order of the day at linebacker

607 tackles, 115 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks, and three interceptions.

Those are the combined career stats of OSU linebackers Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard and Pete Werner.

Their carrers took different paths but there were  certain things those four had in common. They were all tough, productive, reliable  players.

Another thing they have in common is that they are all gone from the OSU roster which means that an entirely new set of linebackers has to be found.

OSU linebackers coach Al Washington has the task of getting the best linebacking unit on the field this season. Thanks to some productive recruiting he has some great options.

Three linebackers who have been patiently waiting in the wings are seniors Dallas Gant (6-3, 235), Taradja Mitchell (6-2, 235) and K’Vaughn Pope (6-1, 225).  Those three are probably the leading candidates for playing time in 2021. They are backed up by R.S. Juniors Craig Young (6-3, 228) and Tommy Eichenberg (6-2, 235), R.S. freshman Mitchell Melton (6-3, 242) and So. Cody Simon (6-2, 232).

While meeting with media members on Thursday the topic of the depth chart was brought up by reporters but to no avail. Nobocy was willing to talk about the current pecking order at linebacker, so the best we can do here is take some educated guesses as to how things are going.

Middle linebacker: The assumed leading candidate at the Mike linebacker is senior Dallas Gant.  Gant threw a bit of a monkey wrench at that assumption during his interview session when he informed reporters that he will miss spring football this year with a foot injury. He did not disclose the nature of the injury but did say that he expects to be fully healthy by the summer. Missing spring drills will not be a good thing for him, but he will probably remain the number one candidate at the position.  He has been in the program for four years so it isn’t like he has to learn the defense and he has had four years in the wieght room with Mickey Marotti.

The likely backup at Mike Tommy Eichenberg. Eichenberg came to Ohio State as a not as heralded player as many of his teammates but has worked hard to prove that he belongs.

“He wasn’t a big blue chip player so he has an attitude, a chip on his shoulder, a sense of drive,” said linebackers coach Al Washington. “He’s hyper-competitive. I love Tommy,” Washington said.

Wil linebacker – Taradja Mitchell is seen as the likely leader for playing time at the Wil.  He has waited his turn, and now it has come.  He was a highly ranked recruit coming out of high school and during his stewardship behiind the now-departed seniors some wondered if he would ever consider transferring rather than waiting.  Mitchell said there was no chance of that, that he has been all in for the program since he arrived at Ohio State.

“The wait let me develop both physically and mentally,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell revealed to reporters that he has adopted a vegan diet just as Justin Fields did last year. As a result he has leaned out his body. He has weighed as much as 255 during his playing career but now checks in at a quicker and faster 235.  The Wil is described as an inside linebacking position and Mitchell brings not only speed and size but also the perfect attitude for that position.

“Playing Wil I’m very aggressive,” said Mitchell. “I love contact.”

Mitchell has made improvements in his body, but it doesn’t end there. He also has become a dedicated student of the game.

“Im watching more film than I ever had. I’m watching film constantly,” said Mitchell.

A likely backup for Mitchell is Mitchell Melton.  Melton has the size to be a hitter and has also slimmed down since arriving at Ohio State.  At one point it was thought that Melton might actually see time at defensive end during his career but he has remained at linebacker.

Sam linebacker – K’Vaugn Pope is seen as the primary candidate for playing time at the Sam. In the times Pope has seen the field he looks like a heat-seeking missle when running down opposing ball carriers and also has a nose for the football in pass coverage. The Sam can also be played as a hybrid Bullet defender. Under those circumstances Craig Young has a very  good chance to be on the field. Young is  currently working as both a safety and a linebacker, a combination that makes him an ideal candidat for the Bullet position.  Also fitting that mold is Cody Simon who played safety in high school but is working as a linebacker at OSU.

The depth chart battles will work out the way they work out, and in an odd way it is the four departed linebackers who will have helped determine how that goes.

“The four guys that left set a great example,” said Washington.

“They left us the blueprint of what it is to be a linebacker at Ohio State,” added Gant.

The three senior linebackers who have patiently waited their turn at Ohio State have something in common with their position coach.  Like the players, Washington could have left OSU this last off-season when he was offered the defensive coordinator’s job at Tennessee. He eventually turned that job down to remain at OSU.

“What makes a job great are the people, and at OSU you are surrounded by great people beginning with head coach Ryan Day,” said Washington. “Then there are people like Kerry Coombs and Larry Johnson. ”

Also weighing on the decision to stay at OSU is the fact that Washington is originally from the central Ohio area and his family and wife’s family all live near Columbus. That makes Columbus an ideal place for Washington to pursue his craft while remaining close with his family.

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