Ohio State had an incredible season last year on its way to the College Football Playoff, where it nearly beat Clemson and advanced to the national title game. Many of the key players from that team moved onto the NFL. How will the Buckeyes replace those departures? And who could step in to make plays similar to what the former Buckeyes made last season? Lettermen Row is breaking down key plays and who could make them. Next up: How the Buckeyes can find a replacement for Malik Harrison
COLUMBUS — Malik Harrison had unmatched productivity during his final two seasons at Ohio State.
The team leader in tackles in each of the last two seasons for the Buckeyes, Harrison was a consistent player and constant playmaker. Harrison totaled 205 career tackles, 29 tackles for loss, nine career sacks and an interception. He could do nearly anything he was asked to as a linebacker.
So it’s fair to wonder where the production will come from now that Harrison is finished with his Ohio State career and expected to be taken early in the NFL Draft. When at the NFL Combine in February, Harrison was asked which Ohio State linebacker he thinks could take over for him next season.
“A couple of guys,” he said. “It could be Teradja [Mitchell], Baron Browning. Browning can come over and play the Will. K’Vaughan Pope, it’s a lot of guys in the linebackers room that have that talent, and when they get that shot, they’re just going to go skyrocket.”
Harrison meant a lot to the Silver Bullets defense over the last two seasons. He was productive against the run, could play some in coverage and could rush the passer when called upon. Where do the Buckeyes turn to find his replacement? Lettermen Row is examining the options moving forward.
Ohio State options
Baron Browning: Browning might be the best candidate to replace Harrison in terms of reps on the field, but the two may not play the same style of linebacker. In the few practices the Buckeyes squeezed in before the pandemic shut down spring camp, Browning was making a transition to an outside linebacker role, where he will be given more freedom and be used in a variety of ways. Browning will rush the passer, set the edge and more. That’s not to say he can’t play both Mike and Will, but they may not be used the same way.
Teradja Mitchell: It may finally be the time for Mitchell, a highly-regarded prospect out of high school, to break out and earn major playing time for the Ohio State defense. Mitchell admitted early in the spring practice session that it was a huge camp for him, but that was cut short. The hard-hitting linebacker has been called a beast by some teammates, a title he is aiming to live up to. The absence of spring practice won’t help Mitchell, but if he can make up for lost time when the Buckeyes get back on the field, he has a chance to be a star.
K’Vaughan Pope: Pope earned a playmaking reputation last year due to his interceptions in back-to-back games against Rutgers and Maryland. That won’t directly translate to playing time, but he was able to show off his instinct and athleticism with the two picks. That can’t hurt. Pope will have to fight for every bit of significant playing time while the logjam at linebacker continues for yet another year. It’s a good problem to have, and Pope might be in the same conversation with his two classmates at the position. With an impressive showing this fall, he could make a move.
Dallas Gant: The final member of the 2018 linebacker class, Gant can get buried in conversations about the position, but he shouldn’t be left out of them. Gant played in all 14 games last season, whether it was as a backup or on special teams, where many future Buckeyes stars make their first impressions. He proved his versatility with 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season. Don’t be surprised if he’s on the field in September.
The pick: Teradja Mitchell
There was plenty of talk surrounding Mitchell as a breakout candidate last season, when Al Washington took over as linebackers coach and declared that every job was up for grabs. Mitchell played a role in the Silver Bullets defense, but never took the next step toward becoming a star. That could change in 2020. While Tuf Borland and Pete Werner man the linebacker unit and Baron Browning becomes a hybrid playmaker at every spot in the defense, Mitchell could step in and make the transition away from the graduated Malik Harrison look easy.