Malik Harrison has been playing well in his first season as a starter, but fellow Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland said there has been an uptick of late.

“Malik has always been the best athlete on the field,” the middle linebacker said, referencing Harrison’s throwdowns in the team’s basketball dunking contests. “Between the legs, whatever it is, off the backboard, it’s unbelievable.

 

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“But the last few weeks, he has been talking more in practice. I think he’s more confident, more sure of his assignment and what needs to get done on every play. I think that has shown in his progress.”

At 6 feet 3 and 245 pounds, the junior from Walnut Ridge leads the Buckeyes in tackles with 52 headed into a game Saturday at Maryland. Increasingly, he has become the cleanup man on the second level of the defense and occasionally the shadow of the opposing quarterback.

He also rarely leaves the field, staying with fellow linebacker Pete Werner when the Buckeyes morph into a nickel defense.

“In every aspect, I think he has improved and helped us a lot,” Borland said. “We’ve got guys all over the field helping us. Everything kind of fits together. In nickel situations, the D-line will get pressure on the quarterback, kind of flush him out, and Malik’s right there to track him down. The DBs are doing their thing as well.”

When Maryland interim coach Matt Canada was asked about Harrison, he also mentioned the defense as a whole.

“I think they all stand out,” Canada said. “That’s something that’s hard when you play a football team like this, is they have such good players, and obviously they do a great job with scheme. Look at last week (in the win at Michigan State), they didn’t let those guys move the ball.

“So I think they are all very good players, and as a team, we have a tremendous challenge trying to find a way to move the football a little bit.”

Funny, but people weren’t saying that about Harrison and Ohio State’s defense a few weeks ago.

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports