Ohio State football spring position analysis: Linebackers looking for a jump-start
Editor’s note: The Ohio State football team will conclude its spring practices at noon Saturday in the annual spring game in Ohio Stadium.
The spring game is a game in name only, of course. For the most part it is a modified scrimmage, the last of the Buckeyes’ 15 permissible practices in the spring.
But first-year OSU coach Ryan Day and his assistants will be looking to see how their new team responds in a competitive setting — albeit against teammates — and in front of a large crowd.
Ohio State drew more than 100,000 fans for a spring game a few years ago, and more than 80,000 last year despite stadium renovations. The capacity for this year’s game will be about 76,000.
With that backdrop, in the days leading up to the spring game, The Dispatch will assess where the Buckeyes stand at key positions.
Position coach: Al Washington (first season).
Key losses: Dante Booker (12 tackles), Keandre Jones (10 tackles).
Key returnees: Malik Harrison (81 tackles, 8½ tackles for loss, 3 sacks), Tuf Borland (67 tackles, 9 TFL, 3 sacks), Pete Werner (58 tackles, 7½ TFL), Baron Browning (23 tackles, 3½ TFL), Justin Hilliard (20 tackles).
New to view: Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope are sophomores who were highly touted prospects. This spring, they began to fulfill that promise. Mitchell is a thumper in the middle who also has the speed to play outside. Gant, a Toledo product, has been mentioned often as a player who has taken a major step forward. Pope has been playing mostly as a strong-side linebacker challenging Werner.
Unit ranking (on a 1-to-5 basis, 5 being the best): 3: There’s little denying that the linebacker play last year was disappointing and a bit mystifying. Position coach Bill Davis has returned to the NFL after it was clear that Ryan Day wasn’t going to retain him. Al Washington brings youth and enthusiasm to a unit that needs a jump-start. Harrison has the most star potential of the group. Borland should be better after rushing back last year from an Achilles injury. With young players pressing for time, veterans will have to prove they deserve to retain their spots.
Stat that worked: The starting linebackers combined for 206 tackles last year, a respectable number. They also had a total of 25 tackles for losses.
Stat that must change: The unit had only one interception last year, a pickoff by Harrison returned 13 yards.
Notable: Borland, who injured his Achilles last spring, has been out with a knee issue this spring. His availability for the spring game is unclear. Hilliard, who has been sidelined by injuries repeatedly throughout his career, also is out indefinitely with an unspecified injury.
Wednesday: Linebackers, specialists
Thursday: Quarterbacks, receivers
Friday: Running backs, defensive backs