The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, Lettermen Row 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 linebackers and Pete Werner? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
The LB's are playing great, what is @CoachWash56 doing different?
— Jeff Ward (@Knowmadz) October 31, 2019
Pete Werner and Tuf Borland heard the criticism about the Ohio State defense.
As the punching bags of defensive complaints last year, they know what people were saying. But instead of responding when asked if they had anything to say, they let it slide. Werner and Borland will just let their play continue to do the talking.
The duo has been lumped together and shouldered a lot of blame for last season’s defense. After an offseason full of coaching changes, scheme changes and attitude changes, one thing remained the same: The players. Werner and Borland are still on the field. Most of the defensive guys for the Buckeyes are the same 11 who were out there last year giving up big plays.
Maybe the problem wasn’t the linebackers’ fault. But that’s all in the past, and this season, Ohio State has new life in one of the country’s top-ranked defense with most of the same guys that had the worst defense last year. Linebackers coach Al Washington has a lot to do with the progression.
“Every day you take the field, you have a purpose,” Washington said in September. “Every day you go to work, you should have the goal to do it better than the day before. You look at last year for each player, we approach it every day like we’ve got to improve. We’ve got a ‘Do what we know we can do’ mentality.”
That mindset is helping Werner and Borland, along with Malik Harrison, lead the Ohio State defense. Between Borland and Werner, they have 56 tackles, six tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and an interception. The linebackers played a huge role in stumping Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor, holding him to 52 yards on 20 carries as the Buckeyes thumped the Badgers.
Washington had a tough task when he left Michigan for Ohio State. Borland was a captain last year and is again this season, but there was speculation that he would be beat out for a starting role in the offseason. That didn’t happen, and Borland is showing why.
Werner’s job wasn’t questioned as much, but his role was unknown with the addition of the Bullet position to the Ohio State defense. But Werner has played a hybrid role at times for the Buckeyes, and he is showing that he can be anywhere the staff might need him on the field.
Washington’s philosophy, coupled with the scheme of Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley, allows Werner and Borland to be reactionary linebackers and find the football, then blow up offensive plays. As the Buckeyes linebackers continue to do those things, they gain confidence that might have been lacking last season.
Maybe Werner and Borland just got better this offseason and are playing better. That is likely true, but the idea of better scheme and better play aren’t mutually exclusive. Washington is putting Borland and Werner, the scapegoats from a year ago, in great position to lead the Ohio State defense into a College Football Playoff run.
“Our guys are starting to feel more confident, but our focus is what we need to improve on,” Washington said after the Indiana game.
Plenty of improvement has already been shown. That’s a scary thought considering what Ohio State’s defense and the linebackers have looked like through eight games.
For the final four games of the regular season, Borland and Werner will just continue to prove why they are still on the field, without responding to the criticism they’ve heard.