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 Ryan Day 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 Ohio State linebackers? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
I'm not worried about the offense at all, how is the defense, especially the linebackers looking?
— Jaegon Targaryen (@propjoe757) March 13, 2019
Ohio State has no shortage of options, the assembled talent is impressive and there is no denying the athleticism when the linebackers are running around the practice field. But that was also true last spring for the Buckeyes, and it obviously didn’t translate to the kind of results the program expects from a critical unit for the Silver Bullets.
Until the pads come on, it’s going to be difficult to get a true read on the situation. And during the first couple practices of spring camp, Ohio State didn’t really appear to be dramatically tweaking all that much as it eased into the changes position coach Al Washington and the rest of the retooled defensive staff have in mind. When the Buckeyes were in a base defense, the returning starters for the most part were in their familiar spots with Malik Harrison and Pete Werner on the outside and Tuf Borland in the middle. Teradja Mitchell and Baron Browning are still options to play on the inside and Dallas Gant is a candidate to jump into the mix for playing time as an outside linebacker.
The most notable difference so far is with the Bullet position, which appears to be tailor-made for Brendon White. The Buckeyes are starting to install the packages with that hybrid between a safety and linebacker, and White is quite clearly the guy the program envisions taking on that role. It remains to be seen just how frequently that position will be used, and that will be an important development since it will directly impact how the rest of the rotation takes shape for the Buckeyes.
If White is on the field at Bullet, that only leaves two spots for traditional linebackers. Harrison has the greatest upside of anybody at the position, and the Buckeyes aren’t going to be in a hurry to take him off the field. From there it would get even more competitive trying to find ways to get Werner involved after what was really a solid first season as a starter, keep a two-year starter like Borland in the mix and then get snaps for Mitchell and Browning.
The end result is likely going to be Ohio State rotating more frequently at linebacker than it has in the past because it has so much athleticism and versatility to work with this year. The Buckeyes can get creative and mix the schemes based on situations and matchups, and it’s already clear after just a couple practices that the coaches aren’t going to pin themselves down to playing just one way.
There is still a long way to go for the Buckeyes, and the work is really only beginning. Once the pads come on and the playbook gets more fully installed, the picture might change. But at this point, Ohio State is building both depth and flexibility, and this might be the best way forward to unlock all that incredible potential with the Silver Bullets.
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