Urban Meyer's Confidence Giving Ohio State Linebackers Added Motivation During Spring Practice

By James Grega on April 4, 2018 at 3:20 pm
Malik Harrison

Ohio State has a legacy or producing some of the best linebackers in college football history. The 2017 season, however, was a down year for the Buckeyes' second level on defense. 

The Buckeyes struggled throughout the 2017 season, as a number of teams had success manipulating Ohio State's linebackers in the play action pass game. The Scarlet and Gray suffered through injuries and inconsistent play despite the veteran presence of Chris Worley and Jerome Baker. 

Entering the spring of 2018, Tuf Borland was the lone returning starter in the linebacker unit, as the Illinois native started nine games as a redshirt freshman with Worley missing time due to a leg injury. Borland, however, suffered an Achilles injury in spring ball and likely won't return until at least September, leaving all three linebacker positions up for grabs. 

Despite all of that, Urban Meyer said he has confidence in Billy Davis' unit as Ohio State begins to wind down spring ball. 

"You've got some good bodies. We're not ready to say who is going to be in what position. It's our job to get the best three of them out there," Meyer said March 26. "That position, once again, they're not perfect, but they don't have to be, and they're trying. I kind of like that position right now."

The optimism from Meyer shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering the way Ohio State has recruited at that position in recent years. Players like Baron Browning, Keandre Jones and Pete Werner were five- or four-star recruits coming out of high school, and after waiting their turns for a year or two, are now competing for playing time. 

Jones, who enters his third year on campus at Ohio State, said Meyer's confidence in the linebacker unit just gives the Buckeyes added motivation to perform well in the spring and to live up to Meyer's expectations. 

"He is confident in our abilities and that just encourages us to keep pushing and making it known that the linebacker room is here to stay," Jones said. "We are here to step up and lead that defense to victory."

Jones and Malik Harrison have been working at the SAM and WILL linebacker spots while Browning and Justin Hilliard have been earning the primary first-team reps at MIKE. Between the three, Harrison has the most experience, collecting 36 tackles last season as a sophomore and said Wednesday that he is excited to take on more of a leadership role in 2018. 

“We are here to step up and lead that defense to victory.”– Keandre Jones

"I have been growing to be a leader now that Tuf is out right now," Harrison said. "Just learning to be a leader, be more vocal. The other players and coaches are seeing me grow as a leader. I am getting more comfortable with everything and my teammates are lifting me up."

With Borland out, there is more than just a leader to replace. If he cannot return before the season opener, there are 58 tackles to account for from last season, as Borland proved to be a reliable run stopper in the middle of the Silver Bullet defense. 

Browning has spent more time at middle linebacker in Borland's absence, opening up more reps for Werner at both outside linebacker positions. Despite neither having much experience, Werner said he is excited to hear Meyer has so much faith in Davis' room. 

"It's like an accomplishment. The linebackers stick together. Coach Davis is doing a great job, and we are pushing as hard as we can," Werner said. "(Losing) Tuf was hard because he was the leader of our linebackers. He pushed us and made sure we were doing the things that we had to do. Losing him and still getting compliments is great because of what we have done as a unit. We are just trying to go as hard as possible to get on the field."

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