It's only fitting that Chris Worley is preparing to play multiple linebacker spots ahead of his final game at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Worley, who started his career as an outside linebacker, moved inside this season out of necessity after the departure of Raekwon McMillan to the NFL Draft. After missing three games to a lower body injury suffered against Army, Worley returned in limited action in a win over Nebraska before becoming a full-time starter again in time for Ohio State's 39-38 win over Penn State.
During Worley's absence, Tuf Borland filled in admirably, collecting 28 tackles including a career-high 12 against Army. It appeared Borland would resume his spot on the bench with Worley's return, however injuries to both Jerome Baker and Dante Booker forced the Ohio State coaching staff to bring Borland back into the starting lineup and put Worley back outside, where he collected 69 tackles in 2016.
With Baker expected to be back this week against Illinois and Booker's status still in question, Worley said Tuesday he has been playing both inside and outside linebacker in practice so that he is prepared for any situation that may arise.
"I am pretty comfortable with all the linebacker (spots). I know them inside and out. The good thing about this past week was, the game plan shrunk a little bit," he said. "The focus was do your job, go out there and win. We got back to that this past week.”
While it is likely Ohio State could have as many as five healthy, first team caliber linebackers available to it this week – including Malik Harrison – Worley said he does not envision the Buckeyes using a rotation.
"It would make the linebackers not be in a good rhythm. It is tough to play that way, especially in college," Worley said. "You have to make sure everyone stays in a rhythm.”
Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said Ohio State's starting linebackers against Illinois will depend on the availability of injured and healthy players.
In that sort of situation, Schiano said Worley's versatility helps Ohio State immensely, especially if another injury is sustained during the game against Illinois.
“When you have an experienced guy that can play all three positions, it not only gives you flexibility to start the game, but in the game," Schiano said. "It’s hard, because it is not like the positions are identical. He is a bright football player and he is an experienced football player and we are fortunate.”
Since Worley's performance against Michigan State, the questions have surfaced if Worley is better suited for a permanent move back outside.
Schiano said that while Worley doesn't have the stereotypical body type for middle linebacker, he has done well with what has been asked of him.
"I think he is suited for all three (spots)," Schiano said. "You might say he is not the biggest guy so maybe get him out of the dead middle of the defense, but he found a way to get his job done."
For Worley, a shift back outside could mean ending his career where it started, as he earned his first career home start against Bowling Green in 2016. His final game in Ohio Stadium will be emotional, he said.
"I keep getting asked questions about it. It has honestly just been a wonderful place for me. This is my sanctuary," Worley said. "I am pretty sure I am going to be choked up.”