'We've got to bring it.' New group of Buckeye linebackers determined to uphold standard
After years of stability, Ohio State will have a new look at linebacker in 2021.
Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard are in NFL training camps. But while those players are gone, linebackers coach Al Washington and the players hoping to replace them believe their impact remains.
“Those guys set out a blueprint, and we’re just following it,” senior Teradja Mitchell said Thursday. “We understand that we're (Ohio State) linebackers. We've got to bring it.”
He believes that’s what they’ve done. Mitchell and fellow seniors Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope have had to wait for their shot to start, and younger players like sophomores Cody Simon and Tommy Eichenberg are also eager to make their mark. They know outsiders will question how the Buckeyes can replace an entire unit as accomplished as the last one without a drop-off.
“People are going to say that — ah, the inexperience,” Mitchell said. “We’re ready.”
He said that comes from extra work the unit put in during the offseason, coming in early to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and staying late.
“We grinded,” Mitchell said.
Al Washington: 'Good idea' who OSU starters Week 1 are at linebacker
Washington has "a good idea” who will start the season-opener against Minnesota in three weeks, but he declined to reveal names.
Washington is confident that his players will be ready.
“I’m very comfortable with the group, comfortable with their character and their talent,” he said. “They’ve put themselves in position to do everything up to this point.”
The linebackers themselves professed to have no idea of the pecking order.
“I couldn’t tell you who would go right now,” Simon said, “but it doesn’t matter. We’re all ready. We’re all working really hard.”
Leadership does not appear to be an issue. Mitchell, who has a charismatic personality, embraces that role.
“The unit needs a leader,” he said, “so I needed to step up to the plate and be more vocal, get the guys around me and understand what we have at stake and understand that it’s going to take a lot of work.”
Mitchell is likely to be the weakside, or Will, linebacker.
Players and coaches have raved about Simon all year, Washington among them.
“He’s just a really mature kid, very focused, processes really fast, and is obviously very gifted physically,” Washington said. “We’re really excited about Cody, and he’s a phenomenal leader as well. The players really respond to him.”
Gant had been regarded as the front-runner to play middle linebacker, but he missed spring practice with a foot injury.
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“It feels good,” he said. “I’m getting there, slowly but surely. I will be ready for the season, I promise you that.”
It’s likely the Buckeyes will mix and match their personnel depending on situations. At 225 pounds, Pope is on the light side, but could find a significant role.
“What he may lack in size he makes up for in explosiveness, quickness and instinctiveness,” Washington said. “He runs very well. I’m confident in his ability. He can play.”
Ohio State has options and wildcards at linebacker
The Buckeyes also have a couple of wild cards at linebacker. Steele Chambers is a new addition after switching from running back, though he acknowledged that the transition has been challenging.
"Insanely frustrating," Chambers said. "Yeah, it sucks. But I'm chipping away at it right now."
Ohio State could get a boost if USC transfer Palaie Gaoteote is ruled eligible. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said Gaoteote, a five-star recruit in 2018, won’t get first- or second-team reps until he is cleared by the NCAA.
Asked to describe his unit, Washington used the terms “tough” and “hungry.”
They have bided their time preparing for this moment.
“These guys, they’ve put their work in, so now let's go,” Washington said. “Their time is now.”
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Notes from Ohio State's Thursday practice. XC