COLUMBUS — Ohio State returns three of its top four linebackers from a season ago. The depth chart for Al Washington isn’t hard to figure out — on the surface.
But when it comes to figuring out who’s going to take the field for the Buckeyes whenever football can resume, Washington had a hard job entering the spring with a room full of talented linebackers. With no spring practice and no real way to watch players sort themselves into a depth chart and quite a bit of down time, Washington’s job to find the best linebackers for the season ahead isn’t getting any easier.
“To be honest, it’s hard to make that statement because we only had three practices,” Washington said. “It’s hard to change what was with three practices. We have our thoughts, but I’m not going to make a declaration at this point.
“I do know this: The younger guys, the guys like Teradja [Mitchell] who are growing up, Dallas Gant, K’Vaughan Pope, those guys are going to be critical to our success. They’ll get a lot of playing time and they make an impact, but I couldn’t give you much more than that.”
It’s known that Pete Werner and Tuf Borland will lead the unit into this season. Both will be third-year starters for the Buckeyes, and their spots on the field are fairly secure. But from there, it gets interesting.
Baron Browning was working outside in the early portion of spring to give him more freedom to run the boundaries and attack with his athleticism. Pope, Mitchell and Gant, meanwhile, are working to be the breakout candidate. Washington has repeated himself many times in saying all six of the linebackers will play, but how feasible is that?
That was going to be the challenge for the coaching staff this spring — and Washington in particular. Without the 15 practices from March and April, the decisions on playing time and fit will have to be made in the fall.
“I played football,” Washington said. “Everybody wants to play. I think we’ve got to do a really good job of keeping them engaged. Fortunately last year, all of those guys played, and it wasn’t like they played in the fourth quarter when the game was over. They played in some critical moments. So I think that piece of it helps. But it’s a daily deal, and it’s a culture deal, and it’s a brotherhood deal.”
The daily deal isn’t possible right now since nobody is allowed in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The cultural deal has to be molded and built through computer screens and iPhones rather than face-to-face interaction. So Washington, the linebackers and everyone at Ohio State must now lean heavily on the brotherhood while waiting for this time without football to pass. Maybe then, they’ll be able to assemble a depth chart and figure out what is going to happen at linebacker when Ohio State takes the field again.
“We have to do a really good job of trying to create ways to think outside the conventional defense and put guys in roles so that they can do what they do best,” Washington said in the first week of spring practice before it got canceled. “That is what we’re doing now.”
And now what they’re doing is sitting at home, waiting for a chance to find out who will stand out in the linebacker room. Spring was supposed to be the time for those competition.
But the formation of the depth chart for the linebackers has been delayed.