Ohio State has lost starting middle linebacker Tuf Borland for a while after he suffered an achilles' tendon injury during a spring football practice last week, coach Urban Meyer said Monday, adding that OSU medical personnel say Borland likely will be ready for the season.
“He’s a little bit like J.T. Barrett,” Meyer said. “You say he’s out for a while, and he’s not going to be out that long.”
Barrett played quarterback in the 2017 Big Ten championship game five days after arthroscopic knee surgery.
Borland, a third-year sophomore, was the lone returning starter at linebacker from 2017, having moved into the lineup for nine of the last 11 games when injuries then a strategy change shuffled the deck.
>> Video: Ohio State's Urban Meyer on Borland injury, Hilliard, Browning
Stepping into the middle with the first team when practice began Monday morning was junior Justin Hilliard. He was rated the No. 1 inside linebacker prospect nationally by rivals.com in the 2015 recruiting cycle, but after redshirting his first year has seen duty mostly on special teams the past two seasons. He has had several injuries, including ruptures of both biceps.
“He’s had some injuries, like tough, tough,” Meyer said. “But I can’t ask for anything more (in terms of effort). He’s one of my favorite guys. He just goes as hard as he can. … So the light’s coming on and he’s doing pretty good.”
The Buckeyes already are replacing outside linebackers Chris Worley and Jerome Baker, who are headed to the NFL draft. Malik Harrison and Keandre Jones were at those spots with the first team Monday, just as they were when spring drills started the first week of March.
Running with the second team in the middle Monday was Baron Browning. Like Hilliard, Browning was a five-star prospect, and Browning was considered the third-best recruit of the Buckeyes’ 2017 signing class, seeing limited time as a backup to Borland last season.
“He’s as talented a linebacker as has ever walked through these doors,” Meyer said of Browning. “He can do it all. He’s a great young man.”
Last year Browning “did not play well early in the season, he just was out of his comfort zone, and by the end of the season was really contributing in a lot of areas, special teams; he should have played some (more) defense, but he just didn’t earn that yet.
“But he’s got it all now, he’s got A to Z, intelligent guy, good person, and God’s blessed him with an incredible skill set.”