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Pete Werner, versatile linebackers and the future of Bullet position

Pete Werner-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes
Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner can do just about anything the Buckeyes need. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Pete Werner, versatile linebackers and the future of Bullet position

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 and how Pete Werner took over the Bullet position? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

The Bullet existed at Ohio State last year, and it will continue to be a key part of both the recruiting plan and defensive scheme moving forward.

But Pete Werner effectively rendered it obsolete thanks to his elite production in a role that is largely interchangeable with the hybrid linebacker/safety position, and he’ll almost certainly do so again whenever the Buckeyes are back on the field this year.

No, Werner never got that cool moniker even when he was essentially taking over the Bullet with his ability to drop deep into coverage, fill the box against the rush or take on man-to-man matchups against tight ends. Yes, officially the Buckeyes were calling him the SAM linebacker, which obviously made no difference to him just as long as he was on the field to make plays. And, of course, that made it a little difficult to discern exactly what the difference in those positions was supposed to be while Werner was blurring the line and killing all the buzz about a spot that dominated the preseason chatter a year ago.

Pete Werner-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner is a versatile weapon for the Buckeyes. (Sammy Silverman/Lettermen Row)

But in signing a versatile athlete like Kourt Williams and identifying him as a perfect fit for what Ohio State wants out of the Bullet, it’s clear it remains a priority for the program moving forward. It just so happens that Werner also boasts that same skill set and was perhaps more perfectly suited for the role than the new coaching staff might have originally imagined.

“This was our first ride, you know,” Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington said in the spring. “You walk in with this plan, and as the year goes, you play off the moment a little bit. I think that’s all that was. … And I think Pete really just did a good job.

“He did a heck of a job. Historically that Bullet and the SAM, there are some differences in skill set. But Pete did such a good job, man — and I’m not knocking the other guys, I think our Bullets are great players and did a good job. It was more about Pete doing such a good job and playing at such a high level.”

Werner should only be better as a senior after a year playing under Washington and Greg Mattison, and his ability to line up almost anywhere on the field will continue to make him one of the most valuable defenders on the roster. Bullet or SAM, the truth is the label probably doesn’t make much difference since Ohio State is primarily trying to identify and then cross-train guys who are capable of playing multiple roles.

Williams will be the next in line after serving something of an apprenticeship this season as a freshman, and his background in a similar role in high school might make it easier for that Bullet role to get attached to his name. The newcomer from California was pitched that position throughout his recruitment, so after another season of Werner doing it under the SAM tag, Williams will probably represent a true unveiling of the hybrid role next year.

Until then, Werner will keep handling Bullet duties without having the flashy nickname that goes with the job — which really does exist.

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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.