Spring practice has started in Columbus, and we are continuing our preview look at each position group at Ohio State. Next up is a position group that’s had a lot of talent and notoriety over the years, the linebackers.
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Ohio State Spring Football Preview: Linebacker
Penn State might be known as Linebacker U, but try telling that to all the All-American linebackers that have come through Columbus. The style of defense may have changed over the last few years with the proliferation of the spread offense, but it’s still a key and dynamic position at Ohio State.
Worley was a captain in 2017 and played at all three linebacker positions. He started 24 games and played in 50 total for his career. He was a cerebral player that was rock solid wherever he was needed. The Buckeyes lost a lot of key five-year guys this past season, and he was one of them.
Baker splashed on the scene last year when he had to fill in because of injury, but played so well it was hard to get him off the field. As a result, Baker was a two-year starter who used his quickness and athleticism to make several big plays in the biggest of games. He had another year of eligibility left but decided to forego his senior season for the NFL.
A former lacrosse player, Turnure never cracked the linebacker rotation but excelled at special teams as a walk-on. If you watched kickoffs and punts, you likely saw Turnure getting in the mix. He provided some depth at the position and pushed others in practice, and was just one of two walk-ons to earn a scholarship in 2017.
Connor struggled with injuries since arriving in Columbus as a four-star recruit, and has been declared medically disqualified from taking further snaps. This would have been the local products fourth year, but he could never fully get healthy to stay on the field.
Borland entered the fray this past year as a redshirt freshman when filling in for an injured Chris Worley. As the season progressed, it was apparent that the defense was just a better unit with him playing the middle, so pieces were moved around and he by and large stayed in the starting inside spot. He’ll be the unquestioned starter this year and could be one of the next great middle linebackers at Ohio State. He’ll at the least get accolades for having the best name for a linebacker in the country.
Reports surfaced just prior to spring practice that Booker was set to transfer upon graduation, but according to the coaching staff, those were false. More than anything, it appears as though Booker is struggling with a couple of shoulder injuries and could be discouraged. He won’t be full go for the spring, so we’ll have to see how the former four-star recruit fares into the fall.
Harrison will probably get the first chance to wrestle away the strongside linebacking spot because of the health of Booker. He played in twelve games as a freshman and saw an increased role last year as he continued his development. He was a local product from Columbus and undervalued as a three-star recruit, but his play on the field shows the Buckeyes got good scouting, and he’s going to be a key part of the defense in 2018.
Browning came to Ohio State with a ton of hype. He was a five-star recruit that was listed as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country according to 247Sports. He got his feet wet a bit last year as a freshman, and he might be too talented to keep off the field as a sophomore this year. He’s a big, fast and athletic 6-4, 230 lbs. If the light goes on and stays on, he’s going to be a good one.
Werner has drawn a lot of praise from the coaching staff and was singled out already in spring practice this year (it’s only been a week). He’ll be a sophomore and the word is that he’s a mature and tireless worker who has a nose for the ball. He’s going to push for playing time and might be your darkhorse to find his way into an extremely key role.
Hilliard was the prized linebacker coming out of high school in 2015, but two major injuries have set him back, relegating him mostly to special teams. The talent is there to get a shot at an increased role, it’ll all depend on where his body and mind is in regard to the mental and physical toll that can occur because of hard-luck injuries.
As of right now, Jones is getting the first-team snaps at the weakside spot. He is a former four-star recruit who found his way into the rotation last year and continued to get snaps as the season wore on. Whether or not he is the starter really depends on how the competition goes with the freakish athlete Baron Browning who is pushing to overtake him. Either way, he’ll be in on a lot of plays in 2018.
Gant is already on campus and taking part of spring drills as a true freshman out of Toledo, Ohio. At 6-3, 225 lbs., he is a four-star recruit that was listed as the No. 6 rated outside linebacker in the country according to 247Sports. He’s probably at least a year away from contending for playing time.
Mitchell won’t be joining the team until the fall, but he’s the most ballyhooed of the linbackers being brought in this year. Most recruiting services have him as a top fifty overall recruit, and top two or three linebacking prospect. It’s unlikely that he’ll jump into the fray outside of special teams this year with the fall start, but he’s talented enough to have an impact sooner rather than later.
Like Mitchell, Pope will be joining the program in the fall. Out of Virginia, he was a top ten inside backer recruit who goes 6-2, 210 lbs. If he stays at the position in the middle, he’ll need to put more weight on his frame, but look for a move to the outside to take advantage of his speed and athleticism once he gets on campus and begins to get rollin’.
Baptiste was the last commit Ohio State got for its 2018 class. He was thought to be a Nebraska lean until the final day when Meyer was able to sell him on the program. He’s also unlikely to join all the fun at the linebacker spot this year, but he’s a talented enough kid to get a look at special teams, and at 6-5, 210, is rangy and quick. He could be a difference maker in years to come. Don’t be surprised if he gets moved to defensive end somewhere down the line.
Predicting the Pecking Order
- Malik Harrison
- Pete Werner
- Dante Booker
- Javontae Jean-Baptiste*
- Tuf Borland
- Justin Hilliard
- Teradja Mitchell*
- K’Vaughan Pope*
- Baron Browning
- Keandre Jones
- Dallas Gant*
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