The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State linebackers and new assistant coach Al Washington? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
How are the linebackers doing?
— Lose in Rd 2 but did it with class #HockeyTown (@dsbuckeyes) May 6, 2019
Maybe ranking the most important hires of the first offseason at Ohio State for Ryan Day is unfair. After all, the Buckeyes were almost completely revamping the defensive staff for a reason, so all of the new additions are going to play key roles in getting the program back on track.
But no unit has struggled quite like the linebackers over the last couple seasons. And that’s going to make Al Washington absolutely critical to the success of the Buckeyes in his first year as an assistant with the program after jumping over from rival Michigan — particularly since he’s inheriting a unit that appears to still be loaded with talent.
Even with only one spring camp under his belt, it’s certainly looking like Washington has been able to provide a spark at Ohio State. The final scrimmage in the Horseshoe didn’t feature any live hitting to evaluate the tacklers, the Buckeyes didn’t tip their hand in terms of personnel or scheme and there’s still not a definitive depth chart heading into the summer. But based on effort alone, those first 15 practices with Washington on the field suggest he’s going to get results.
“They are a high-character group, very talented, athletic, tough — and I would say there’s a lot of room for development,” Washington said during spring camp. “They’re just learning the defense, but they’re a great group, man. Great leadership.
“Every kid knows that [situation], so you get everybody’s best. Nobody is comfortable, nobody is complacent. Everybody is growth-minded, everybody is eager. So as a coach, I’m not coaching effort. I’m not saying at a place like this you ever would, but it’s human nature, right? But it’s been awesome because everybody has kind of bought into that. … When they’re out there, they want it.”
That desire is understandable considering how much the unit has been picked on recently, and it’s impossible for those Buckeyes to ignore their role in the problems that produced the worst statistical defense in school history. Whether it was a schematic issue, alignment problems, a disconnect with former position coach Billy Davis or something else entirely, it has been puzzling to watch linebackers with so much potential look so lost on the field.
The NFL future for Malik Harrison seems obvious. Tuf Borland had already shown that he could be a difference-making Big Ten linebacker during his first year in the lineup. Pete Werner has more than enough physical tools to be a factor for the Buckeyes, and guys like Teradja Mitchell and Dallas Gant are pushing for more action and could potentially crack the starting lineup.
So, there’s really no reason to doubt that Ohio State’s ability to restore the program’s rich tradition at linebacker. That means the pressure is squarely on Al Washington to put those guys in position to do it — and at this point, he’s looking more than capable of holding up his end of the deal.
And if that happens, evaluating the power rankings of new assistants might be a little easier.
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