This week's Better Know a Buckeye feature continues with a profile of Pete Werner, a linebacker from the Indianapolis area.
- Size: 6-3/220
- Position: ILB
- Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
- School: Cathedral
- 247 Composite: ★★★★
- National Ranking: 273
- Position Ranking: 14 (ILB)
- State Ranking: 2 (IN)
Fans may remember that Werner was one of several customary "flips" that Ohio State has made late into recruiting cycles during Urban Meyer's tenure. Werner was originally a Notre Dame pledge but an intervention from Luke Fickell, amid other problems at Notre Dame, encouraged Werner to decommit from the Irish on Nov. 29. He committed to Ohio State two weeks later.
I retell this story below and the reasons Ohio State targeted Werner late in the process. Thereafter, I provide a scouting report of a linebacker prospect with a great combination of instincts and speed. I offer a projection of a redshirt in 2017 and close with some senior-year film for the reader to watch at the end of the feature.
Pete Werner comes to Ohio State from the Cathedral program in Indianapolis, arguably the best program in the state. It has more football victories than any other state program. It regularly advances far into the playoffs and has won seven state championships since 2006. As a result, its top players are routinely targets for the best college football programs in the region (e.g. Terry McLaurin) even if the state itself is not exactly a hotbed of talent in the region.
This "big fish, small pond" aspect underscores how Werner's recruitment started much later than some of his peers in this class. Werner emerged as a commodity on the recruiting trail during his junior year, earning his first offer in October 2015. That offer came from Illinois State, an FCS program. However, Werner acquired offers from Northwestern and Purdue by the end of the month. Vanderbilt and Wisconsin both offered three weeks later.
He acquired a few more offers in early 2016. Only Stanford (an early favorite) stands out from an offer list that was effectively regional (e.g. Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana) or included lower-tier FBS programs that look for talent in the Midwest (e.g. Boston College, Duke, Syracuse). The big offers came in two weeks last February. Notre Dame joined Ole Miss, Penn State, and Tennessee in offering Werner on the same day. California, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Texas A&M offered a week later.
Werner started taking visits immediately, first embarking on a trip to Penn State before swinging by Michigan State. He followed it with a visit to Wisconsin in mid-March. The big weekend came on March 18-19 last year when Werner visited Michigan and Notre Dame in succession.
Werner knew the Notre Dame visit would be "significant" when he made it but did not anticipate it would lead to a commitment. It did, albeit two days later on March 21, 2016. Saying that the visit "felt like it was perfect," Werner pulled the trigger for the Irish.
His status as Notre Dame commitment was solid before Luke Fickell made it a priority to recruit him at the end of November. Several things had happened by this point. First, Notre Dame's 4-8 season suggested major program uncertainty that Werner had not anticipated when he committed in March. Second, Ohio State's coaches were eyeing another linebacker for the 2017 class. They had just secured Baron Browning in the fold. They wanted Anthony Hines too, but Hines had gravitated toward Texas A&M shortly after his early November visit. Ohio State needed to replace Antjuan Simmons in the class and eyed Pete Werner toward that end.
Werner had always been interested in Ohio State too. He said he wanted to visit after he received his offer last February. He wanted to do more research on Ohio State as well. However, Notre Dame successfully wooed him before he had the opportunity.
Werner decommitted from Notre Dame the day after Luke Fickell visited him. He finally visited Ohio State on Dec. 9. Everything else thereafter was a fait accompli.
Pete Werner committed to Ohio State on Dec. 11 as the 16th member of what would become Ohio State's full 2017 recruiting class. He chose Ohio State over Notre Dame, to which he was previously a verbal commitment, and Stanford, an early favorite in his recruitment.
Extremely excited to commit to The Ohio State University! pic.twitter.com/RausvmV6HR— Pete Werner (@petewerner23) December 11, 2016
His decision was somewhat curious given that Luke Fickell, his would-be position coach who spearheaded the intervention to land Werner at Ohio State, had just become Cincinnati's head coach. However, Werner said that had no effect on his decision.
Werner's comments about his decision highlighted two things about Ohio State. One, he respected the coaching staff's ability to make the most of his potential on the field. Further, he respected Ohio State's academic credentials. It's not lost on the reader that the two schools that interested Werner the most before his Ohio State commitment (Notre Dame and Stanford) are also world-class academic institutions.
WHERE HE EXCELS
Pete Werner operated a defense at Cathedral in which it was clear to onlookers he was the unit's focal point and best player. His film is generous with where he is on the field making plays, either blitzing, blowing up designed roll-outs, or running down a successful screen play.
He shows some nuance that piques the viewer. I like his ability to diagnose protection schemes. Watch carefully and you'll see how he adjusts his pursuit of quarterbacks on designed roll-outs contingent on whether the running back is staying home in pass protection.
This underscores a general theme in Werner's film. He has a solid understanding of the mental side of the game with the straight-line running ability and lateral quickness to thrive at linebacker. His straight-line speed definitely turns heads.
MUST WORK ON
Werner has the frame to play at linebacker, but not quite the size yet. The key interest in Werner's development will be how he adds bulk in the weight room and whether this added mass and strength slows him down.
This adds to a general comment about Werner's trajectory. He's likely a middle linebacker amid these concerns. Thus, Werner will need to show more in the realm of hand-fighting and getting off blocks. He does well right now, but much of this is effort. He'll want to show more technique in this area as he develops.
Further, his ability in pass coverage is limited in large measure because of the lack of reps. He has the ability to stay with a tight end in pass coverage given his size and speed, but he needs more practice. Most high school football is run-intensive, after all.
I like Werner's ability to play on special teams given his straight-line speed. That would be the surest path to the field. That said, Ohio State does not want for linebacker and special teams options this year. This makes Werner a likely redshirt candidate.
Here are senior-year highlights for Pete Werner.