2016 Season Preview: Inexperience Flanks Star Raekwon McMillan As Buckeye Linebacking Corps Enters Season

By Chris Lauderback on August 25, 2016 at 1:05 pm
Raekwon McMillan finished 3rd in Butkus Award voting last season.
Eleven Warriors' Ohio State Football 2016 Season Preview

Ohio State's history as a football factory traces back to many positions, not least of which is linebacker. 

The program's past great linebackers reads like a who's who in Buckeye lore with names like Pepper Johnson, Steve Tovar, Andy Katzenmoyer, Tom Cousineau, Chris Spielman, A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis, Marcus Marek, Ryan Shazier and Randy Gradishar dotting the list. 

Last year, Darron Lee and Joshua Perry became the latest from the position to not only leave their mark in Columbus but also see themselves taken in the 1st and 4th rounds of the NFL Draft, respectively, leaving two huge holes in Ohio State's linebacking corps. 

How quickly Luke Fickell can develop replacements for those two alongside returning middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will go a long in determining Ohio State's ultimate fate this season. 

Before springing ahead to how that effort will take shape, let's first take a look at how the unit performed in 2015. 


Sporting a pair of returning starters from the 2014 national championship squad in Lee and Perry, along with a seasoned McMillan, the trio performed solidly though not at the spectacular level we saw the year prior. 

Lee was a playmaking machine for Ohio State.

Perry was his steady self posting his 2nd-straight 100+ tackle season but Lee, after a truly ridiculous 2014 effort wasn't quite as dominant posting 66 tackles, 11.0 TFL and 4.5 sacks. 

McMillan, in his first year as a full-time starter, racked up a team-leading 119 stops and finished third in Butkus Award voting. Even with those 119 stops, the belief of many was McMillan had room for improvement to be a more physical run-stopper and playmaker (4.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks) which tells you how lofty his ceiling can be this year in the eyes of many. 

Though the collective unit may not have been quite as strong as the 2014 group, the trio of Lee, Perry and McMillan did finish among the top-four tacklers on the team which was a first since Meyer's arrival. 

The depth behind the starters went largely untested which was great for last year but maybe not so much for this year. 

Dante Booker saw just 98 defensive snaps across 13 games with Cam Williams and Chris Worley also seeing spot duty at best. 


Like most of the position groups on this year's squad, the linebacker unit has huge holes to fill. 

Before we get to how Fickell will address those holes, we can start with the constant in the group in McMillan. 

Set to kickoff his junior season, McMillan will be counted on to not only produce but lead. As such, Meyer tabbed the 6-2, 243 pounder a co-captain heading into spring ball and by all indications he's living up to the responsibility. 

On the field, McMillan's 119 stops last year ranked fourth in the B1G (9.8 per game) and served as the most tackles by an Ohio State sophomore since Tovar went for 125 back in 1990. 

As noted, there's actually room for improvement in McMillan's game and considering his work ethic and talent, it's fair to expect he'll be a more effective run stuffer in the box while bettering his TFL numbers from a year ago. 

Flanking McMillan at the SAM spot looks to be fourth-year junior Chris Worley. The Cleveland Glenville product started the first game of 2014 before being relegated to backup duty for Lee across the balance of the last two seasons. 

It's now or never for Worley after he held off true sophomore Jerome Baker in the spring and now into fall camp. With 210 career defensive snaps to his credit and strong backing from Fickell as the "heart and soul" of the linebacker room, it's up to Worley to produce on the field at a crucial position within Ohio State's defense. 

Worley and Booker need to step up if Ohio State has any shot to make the CFP.

On the other side of McMillan, Booker will replace Perry after seeing 98 defensive snaps a season ago. The 6-3, 236 pounder of of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary looked particularly fast and aggressive filling in for an injured Perry against Penn State last year and drew rave reviews from McMillan this spring for his speed and playmaking ability. 

Similar to Perry, Booker takes a cerebral approach to the game which transfers to the classroom as evidenced by being an academic All-B1G selection last year and an OSU scholar athlete in 2014-15. 

Should Worley or Booker falter, things could get sketchy considering the complete lack of experience behind them. 

Baker absolutely looks the part and stood out in the spring game but despite his fine camp and blue chip status (US Army All-American, top-10 LB prospect nationally) he still saw just 90 total plays last year. 

Behind Booker looks to be Justin Hilliard. Forced to redshirt last year due to injuries, the Cincinnati St. Xavier product entered the program as a five-star according to Rivals and 24/7 but the talent has to be considered fairly raw due to lack of practice time. Booker needs to stay healthy so Hilliard can be brought along slowly. 

Backing up McMillan should be Nick Connor. Like Hilliard, Connor redshirted last year due to a knee injury which followed a knee injury forcing him to miss half of his senior season for Dublin Scioto. Connor looks like a beast but staying healthy has proved a challenge. 

Offering additional depth will be Craig Fada, Tuf Borland, Keandre Jones and Joe Burger. 


McMillan should have a monster season making a run at the Butkus and All-American honors. 

On the outside, I like Booker as the breakout player on defense along with defensive end Sam Hubbard and he'll need to be considering the lack of experienced depth. 

Worley is the question mark though I take comfort in knowing his mental approach to the game is so solid. Should he not be able to do what is required of the position, at least Baker has shown flashes of the kind of playmaking ability Fickell wants from the position. My gut is Worley eventually shares snaps with Baker whereas Booker and obviously McMillan and every down mainstays. 

This year's linebacking corps may not prove quite as strong as what we saw last season but if Worley can prove serviceable, I have full confidence in Booker doing his part and McMillan shining thus giving the Buckeyes legit production once again. 

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