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Ohio State: Which unit has most room to grow for Buckeyes?

Pete Werner-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State needs more consistent performances from Pete Werner and the linebackers. (Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports)

Question Of The Day

Ohio State: Which unit has most room to grow for Buckeyes?

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 on Urban Meyer and 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 the linebackers? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

Ohio State may not have been quite nine units strong across the board the way it envisions. But it had to be closer than it might seem based on the record, that shiny new Big Ten championship trophy and the Rose Bowl bid. Even if there is room to grow, there is not a position group for the Buckeyes that is in complete disarray.

It’s important to keep that perspective for the program, particularly as it deals with this transition period as Urban Meyer heads into retirement. The Buckeyes are still loaded with talent at every position, they’re still recruiting at a high level and will again be the favorites to defend the Big Ten crown next season.

But which group can push Ohio State over the top and back to the national-title conversation? For Ryan Day, that effort is almost certainly going to begin with a hard look at the linebackers to get the Silver Bullets back on track.

The Buckeyes were historically poor on that side of the ball this season, finishing with the worst total defense in school history and really taxing an all-time great offense to carry the load. Even for an offensive guru like Day, that’s not going to be a formula he will want to rely on moving forward as a head coach, and that could lead to tough decisions right off the bat when it comes to the coaching staff.

Billy Davis-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State linebackers coach Billy Davis is under pressure to get more from his group. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State is absolutely not short on talent at linebacker, which makes the frequency of breakdowns, alignments issues and explosive plays allowed hard to fathom. Is it a product of the overall scheme that coordinator Greg Schiano was using, or are the issues related more directly to techniques and what position coach Billy Davis is drilling with his guys? The Buckeyes have more elite recruits than they could possibly play at one time, so there really shouldn’t be an excuse for that unit to be a weak link defensively — especially since both the present and future is secure on the depth chart.

If Malik Harrison returns for another season, the Buckeyes could have the entire starting unit together again next year. But there are guys like Baron Browning, Teradja Mitchell, Keandre Jones and Dallas Gant all bursting with potential and looking for a shot to contribute with more touted recruits on the way. Talent is unequivocally not an issue for the Buckeyes at linebacker.

The reason may not be entirely clear, but it’s obvious that unit didn’t live up to its immense potential this season. And Day is going to have to get to the bottom of that problem if the Buckeyes are going to return to the College Football Playoff in his debut campaign.

There’s nothing wrong with what Ohio State accomplished this season. But taking the next step is going to rely on more from the linebackers.

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Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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