Despite Inexperience, Ohio State's Linebackers Must Step Up in 2018

By Kevin Harrish on June 24, 2018 at 7:15 am
Ohio State's linebackers

At the start of the season, Ohio State will have three new starting linebackers.

With Jerome Baker and Chris Worley in the NFL, and Tuf Borland likely out for the beginning for the season with an Achilles injury, the Buckeye linebacking corps will be fairly green to start the season.

Of the six linebackers currently vying for the starting spots, four of them have fewer than 20 tackles in their careers and the other two – Dante Booker and Malik Harrison – have fewer tackles in their entire careers than Baker, Worley and Borland had just last season.

But while each of them are inexperienced and unproven players, Ohio State can't afford a drop in production as it heads into the new season. In fact, the Buckeyes likely need their linebackers to be even better in 2018, despite the roster turnover.

While it's not necessarily fair to call Ohio State's linebackers the weak link of the 2018 defense, the team lost two games last season and in both cases the opposing offense seemed to have success attacking the Buckeye linebackers.

Chris Worley and Jerome Baker will not be there for the Buckeyes this season.

Oklahoma ravaged Ohio State with an RPO-heavy offense that read the linebackers, forcing them out of position which led to eventual Heisman winner Baker Mayfield torching the Buckeye defense for 386 yards and three touchdowns.

Then there was the debacle in Iowa City, when the nation's 102nd-best offense dropped 55 points on what looked like a completely ill-prepared Buckeye defense, particularly at the linebacker position. The players seemed confused by relatively simple concepts, and were unable to react accordingly.

To quote our scheme analyst Kyle Jones, the defense "looked as though they'd never seen an I-formation or two-tight end set in their lives."

From Jones after the 31-point beatdown:

Greg Schiano is in charge of the safeties in addition to his duties as coordinator, and Billy Davis, who called the defensive plays in San Francisco, Arizona, and Philadelphia, leads the linebackers. While both units lost star players from a year ago in Malik Hooker and Raekwon McMillan, training camp opened three months ago, and the kinds of failures seen on Saturday should be inexcusable at this point in the season.

Perhaps no situation amplified these issues more than when Iowa was near the goal-line, as the Buckeye linebackers and safeties, for the most part, looked clueless against simple concepts found in nearly every playbook.

While individual failures may fall on a single player, what we saw last weekend was the failure of an entire unit to properly line up and execute a game plan, which will undoubtedly lead to some uncomfortable conversations between Urban Meyer and two of his closest friends in the coaching world.

While that loss didn't seem to be a personnel issue as much as it was a coaching staff failing to prepare its players, Ohio State needs to be wary as it heads into this season with three new starters at linebacker.

Even though the players weren't really the issue last season, teams picked on the Buckeye linebackers. And with two of them gone to the NFL and replaced with first-year starters, you better believe teams are going to pick on them again, and hope for even more success.

The only way for Ohio State to stop it is to send out a talented and prepared group of linebackers next season, ready for a trial by fire. Whoever earns the starting spots will likely be tested early and often and must be ready physically and mentally.

There will be no hiding – the young guns will have to perform.

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