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Ohio State linebackers Pete Werner, Tuf Borland thriving with Al Washington

Pete Werner-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner is having a big year for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Ohio State linebackers Pete Werner, Tuf Borland thriving with Al Washington

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.

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.”

Al Washington-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Al Washington has helped guide the Ohio State linebackers to a better season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

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.

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Lawrence Martin
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Lawrence Martin

Work speaks for itself

CaptCurt
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CaptCurt

Great article. There will always be haters based off last year, but 99% of Buckeye fans see and appreciate the vast improvement.

coolhand850
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coolhand850

I will just be quiet on Borland. Hopefully we are good enough to cover up for him all season. Go Bucks

allinosu
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allinosu

Graded champion three times. Doesn’t sound like he needs covering up. Sounds like you haven’t been watching before hating.

coolhand850
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coolhand850

Sounds like you don’t know what you are looking at. If we are going to win a National Championship, Day will have to get him off the field in the playoffs. If not, taking down Clemson or Bama is not happening.

Jeff
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Jeff

+1. Although he’s improved, more talent is with Browning, Mitchell, Pope, Gant, and Hillard. I’m rooting for Tuf but….

coolhand850
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coolhand850

Exactly what I was trying to say. I pull for Tuf as well, but he was average before the injury, and is worse now. Too slow and too small. Huge liability against real competition. He was the reason the punt was blocked against Wisconsin as well. Missed his block when he was the only safety net. Werner is not great but has made improvement. He has not hurt us this year. But with Browning, Mitchell, Gant, and Hilliard on the roster, Borland should be on the bench. Just Saying. We can’t have no holes if we hope to challenge Tua… Read more »

CaptCurt
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CaptCurt

I thought you were going to be quiet on Borland. And no, you do not pull for Borland. Who do you think you are kidding. And obviously, YOU don’t know what you are talking about. Two different sets of coaches say he is a starter. Haters going to hate.

allinosu
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allinosu

The problem with you wanna be couch coaches is that you see what you want to see. The liability has been Browning. Yes he is athletic and fast but he leaves his gap open way to often. He gets caught with his eyes in the backfield and either leaves his gap or is slow in his drops. Nebraska used that for their only TD. MSU seen that on tape and targeted his area 4 times for first downs before he finally tipped one and then threw a block that wasn’t needed to bring back a TD. In the first three… Read more »

mcs
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mcs

why talk about Bama were playing LSU in the Natty this year

Thomas Voytko
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Thomas Voytko

A good tight end with a QB that can hit him will eat Werner up. Look at Northwestern and Wisconsin replays and Werner would have gotten burned by a tight end if the QB could hit him. Look at how Northwestern gashed the middle a few times with Boodle, and you can tell they missed Browning. Borland, no matter how “Tuf” is still slow.

allinosu
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allinosu

They didn’t miss Browning leaving his gap open at all. I’ll explain what you were seeing since it went over your head. The DT were getting schooled for a short time in the NW game. In the Wisconsin game Browning was completely lost so they pulled him. I hope it was his injury causing him to be so bad.

Thomas Voytko
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Thomas Voytko

A lot of differing opinions, but its a shame you need to bust someone for his opinion. Just make your point and move on.

Buck68
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Buck68

soooo Spencer… Borland & Werner could be “mutually INclusive”? ;-{)}

Nice article.

Hope our guys doN’t ‘take a week off’ …from “thriving”.

GO BUCKS!

TLM
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TLM

Agree that Borland and Werner are much improved. I also agree with the pervious comment that Werner still gets beat by tight ends regularly, Tuf also doesn’t hit the right gap on a lot of plays (breakdown on the Tim May podcast shows this). Pope and Gant are superior athletes but the coaches must feel their lack of experience is what keeps them on the bench. I just worry that our defense is susceptible to tight end and rb passing game.

Spencer Holbrook

Spencer Holbrook covers Ohio State football and basketball for Lettermen Row. A recent graduate of Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism, he's in his first year covering the Buckeyes. He was previously the sports editor at Ohio's student newspaper, The Post, where he covered Ohio University football and men's basketball.

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