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Linebacker shakeup might not be necessary for Ohio State

Ohio State-Tuf Borland-Ohio State football-Buckeyes
Ohio State middle linebacker Tuf Borland started camp in position to keep a starting job. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Linebacker shakeup might not be necessary for Ohio State

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 the Ohio State linebacker depth chart? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

The glimpse was brief, but it was enough to spot three familiar faces for Ohio State at linebacker.

Even after the struggles from a year ago, that might not be such a bad thing for the Buckeyes. But it also doesn’t mean Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland or Pete Werner are guaranteed anything just because they had the first crack at their old jobs in the starting lineup after just four practices of training camp.

Ohio State has repeatedly made it clear that it would have a clean slate when it comes to the depth chart and that all spots would have to be earned, even the guys with previous experience helping win Big Ten championships. It makes sense, though, that veterans who have been through multiple seasons in the program developing both physically and mentally to play the position would lead the line and potentially have the inside track to playing time.

Whatever former defensive coordinator Greg Schiano got wrong a year ago and regardless of the numerous issues Billy Davis had leading the unit as the position coach, b0th of those coaches have been in the profession for a long time. They are obviously responsible for the breakdowns a year ago, but they didn’t completely forget what they were doing — and more important, they can still identify talent. The fact that a revamped coaching staff already sees the same potential in Borland in the middle with Harrison and Werner flanking him in the base, 4-3 personnel grouping certainly validates the idea that a lack of ability was never the problem.

Harrison’s freakish athleticism is clear for anybody to see. When Borland was fully healthy, he was an instant game-changer for the Buckeyes when given a chance to crack the lineup two years ago. And while Werner may have dealt with some inconsistency last year, that’s not uncommon for a first-time starter — and he also made some plays that showed his upside and wound up being critical for Ohio State on the way to the conference title.

Malik Harrison-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison is in line to keep his starting job for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

That doesn’t mean some rising Buckeyes like Baron Browning, Teradja Mitchell or perhaps Dallas Gant can’t eventually pass the returning starters on the depth chart or that they should just accept backup roles. Ohio State is almost certainly going to use some sort of rotation at linebacker instead of simply leaning on three players to carry the entire load, and there’s also still a long way to go before the season opener.

“You know, when [linebackers coach Al] Washington first came in, he said there were no starters,” Harrison said after the first practice of camp. “So, everybody has a chip on their shoulder and just wants to be out there and be able to get that starting position.

“It’s not really set in stone who is going to start, so everybody is just competing. We’re pushing each other to get to that No. 1 spot.”

Harrison always seemed like a surefire pick to keep his spot. But at this early stage, it’s starting to seem like both Borland and Werner have better chances than might have been anticipated heading into August.

A new group of coaches are seeing the same upside with those Buckeyes. Now they just have to do a better job of using them.

Miss any previous editions of Question of the Day? Catch up right here.

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Tom VoytkoallinosuBryan BettsCraigBrutus0717 Recent comment authors
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Ace
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Ace

I was expecting some changes at LB. They were horrible at times last year.

Bryan Betts
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Bryan Betts

Speed is an issue for Borland. Size, strength and arm tackling the issues for Werner. Werner was decent in pass coverage, however he has the body size of a safety, not a linebacker. Needs to get more dedicated in the weight room. I am hoping the new schemes and coaches can help with many of the defensive breakdowns of the linebacker corps from last season, but I think Teradja Mitchell needs to supplant Borland at the mike position. He is way more athletic, however Borland may possess some intangibles like leadership that Mitchell may have yet to develop. I think… Read more »

dan lucas
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dan lucas

bryan, “leadership” didn’t help jt barrett hit receivers on the move and it won’t help borland try and tackle speedy RBs. i get what you’re saying – but intangibles like that or “scheme” only go so far.

Bryan Betts
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Bryan Betts

True….just trying to find something to say positive about Tuf.

Brutus0717
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Brutus0717

Well Bryan you’ll be happy to know that I took a look at the roster earlier and Werner is listed at 239, up from 232 last year. But he still looks skinny because of his long neck.

Bryan Betts
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Bryan Betts

He got “the EATIES, FOR HIS WHEATIES!!!”

Kid Buckeye
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Kid Buckeye

No might about it.

Jeff
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Jeff

what is wrong with these coaches…these guys failed to keep gaps..you could see it everytime…

allinosu
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allinosu

There was a podcast a few months ago that showed that gap integrity was just as much a dline problem which tells me it’s scheme.

Victvod
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Victvod

I see all the experts are here. Pretty sure they know more than the coaches do.

Bryan Betts
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Bryan Betts

I didn’t take an “expert” to see the utter breakdown of this defense last year, especially within the LB corps. Even my Grandma said during family games , “Where da hell are them linebackers going’…aint ya supposed to go where the ball is?”

Mike Rotch
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Mike Rotch

Well clearly neither you or your grandma know anything about linebacker/team defensive play. As a linebacker your job is to follow your keys or cover a gap depending on the call, even though it may not take you to the ball

dan lucas
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dan lucas

the job of a linebacker is also to TACKLE. borland and werner were awful last year a that.

allinosu
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allinosu

If you knew what you talking about you’d know that it was a team effort in bad tackling, bad angles and bad gap responsibilities. They did a podcast right on this site a little while back and which showed that.

Bryan Betts
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Bryan Betts

It was just a joke Mike….chill bro.

dan lucas
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dan lucas

if borland and werner is the best osu has – then throw recruiting and 4/5 stars out the window. i don’t buy excuses for last year – borland was being targeted with speed by the opposing teams last year and made to look simple. werner couldn’t tackle ANYBODY! harrison is the real deal and has played like it. however, the notion that bigtime recruits like mitchell, browning, and gant should again set on the bench so werner and borland can start is a crazy notion.

Brutus0717
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Brutus0717

“Werner couldn’t tackle ANYBODY”

Except for the 90-something guys he got credit for tackling.

Jack C
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Jack C

If Borland continues to play, then all I can say is our LB recruiting must of been horrible. We will not be a national championship contender if Borland is playing a lot in the middle.

allinosu
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allinosu

Yes it’s all doom and gloom. I’m glad your just an idiot that thinks he’s coach in your his own mind and not a real one. You’re going to look real stupid early in the season.

Sammy Bach
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Sammy Bach

Yes you’re right allinosu, I forgot how good he looked last year!!

allinosu
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allinosu

And injured with his backups not being able to step up. That injury takes a year to push off that foot properly

Chet Webster
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Chet Webster

Allinosu, are you for real?
Yes he will look great(maybe) against Florida Atlantic.

allinosu
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allinosu

He looked great against USC and now he can run properly.

dan lucas
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dan lucas

allin – if werner, borland, and arnette are going to be on the field a majority of the time, look for the buckeye defense to continue to give up big plays and lots of points.

allinosu
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allinosu

Man, am I glad you are just a couch potato coach. They are going to be on the field a lot so you might as well find another team to watch now. BTN was bragging about Werner yesterday being all over the field so they don’t know what they’re doing along with our coaches.

Tom Voytko
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Tom Voytko

Borland is on the small size for the Mike and not very fast. His Achilles should have been fine at the end of the year. I hope Mitchell flashes enough to beat him out.

Mike H
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Mike H

The linebacker play was horrible last year. There is a reason fans prayed Bill Davis was fired. Let’s be honest we watched terrible teams gash our linebackers over and over. Watched Werner run by plays or just get plain old beat. Honestly if none of these big time recruits can beat out Borland or Werner then either we have a development problem at OSU or the recruiting wasn’t as good as we previously believed.

Craig
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Craig

If we all could coach our team would never get beat there was a coach last year that got upset he would not take over. That my friends shows up when u dont need it to

allinosu
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allinosu

I guess that’s why Borland is on a watch list as one of the best LBs in the country.

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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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