Third-Year Reset: Dallas Gant On Verge of More Playing Time in Ohio State's Middle Linebacker Rotation

By Dan Hope on July 29, 2020 at 8:35 am
Dallas Gant

As Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2018 enters its pivotal third season in Columbus, we’re taking a look back at each of their first two years as Buckeyes and look ahead at what to expect from them in 2020 and beyond with the Third-Year Reset.

Ohio State will be counting on its class of 2018, which is the highest-rated recruiting class OSU has ever signed, to step up in a big way as it looks to make another run to the College Football Playoff (if there is one) despite the departures of many key players from last season. 

Each of them have now been with the Buckeyes for two years, and by the end of the upcoming season – assuming it happens – all of them will either be on the back end of their Ohio State careers or off to the NFL. So while most of them haven’t played major roles for the Buckeyes yet, the time for them to deliver on their potential is now.

Dallas Gant is one of three junior linebackers, along with fellow 2018 signees Teradja Mitchell and K’Vaughan Pope, who’s been waiting his turn for an opportunity to see significant playing time on Ohio State’s defense. And while he still isn’t likely to be a starter in 2020, he just might be in line to play the biggest role among them in his third year.

Positioned to be Tuf Borland’s backup at middle linebacker, Gant should get the chance to begin proving himself as a rotational player in his junior season.

Before He Became a Buckeye

A four-year starter on the football field and three-year starter on the basketball court at Toledo’s St. John’s Jesuit High School, Gant was the Toledo Blade football player of the year, an All-Ohio linebacker and a high school Butkus Award semifinalist in 2017, when he recorded 94 total tackles with seven sacks and an interception at linebacker while also catching 27 passes for 456 yards and seven touchdowns as a tight end and wide receiver on offense.

Gant, who grew up in the heart of rivalry territory and whose uncle and cousin played for Michigan, ultimately chose the Buckeyes over nearly two dozen offers that also included Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Penn State.

He was ranked as the No. 166 overall prospect, 10th-best linebacker and fifth-best prospect from Ohio in the class of 2018.

Career to Date

Gant appeared in all 14 of Ohio State’s games in 2018, earning immediate playing time on multiple special teams units, but his only defensive snaps of the year came on the final eight plays of the Buckeyes’ blowout win over Tulane. He recorded four of his six total tackles for the season against the Green Wave.

In his second season with the Buckeyes last year, Gant was a regular on just about every special teams unit while appearing in 10 games on defense for a total of 118 snaps. He finished the year with 21 total tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and perhaps most memorably, a shutout-preserving forced fumble in Ohio State’s 42-0 win over Cincinnati.

With Borland, Malik Harrison, Pete Werner, Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard all playing first-team snaps last season, nearly all of Gant’s defensive playing time came with the second-team defense in the second half of lopsided victories. But Gant has tried to stay patient while waiting his turn for a bigger role, recognizing that he could learn from the veteran linebackers in front of him.

“It’s tough, but it’s also great just to see how people at that level and that old work and navigate not just on the field but also off the field, how they conduct themselves and stuff like that,” Gant said this spring. “So watching Pete, Tuf, Baron and Justin ... kind of learning from everybody, it makes you a better player.”

Third-Year Outlook

Because Borland, Werner, Browning and Hilliard are all back for another year, Gant will probably have to wait one more year before he finally gets his chance to be a starter for the Buckeyes. That said, it does appear the door could be open for Gant to finally earn some regular playing time in Ohio State’s linebacker rotation.

With Browning moving to outside linebacker for his senior season, Gant is expected to be Ohio State’s second-team Mike linebacker, the position he has been practicing at primarily since last season. And if the Buckeyes continue to rotate Borland in and out of the lineup as they did with Browning, that could be the chance Gant has awaited to play with the first-team defense week in and week out.

Although Borland’s status as the starting middle linebacker is cemented as a soon-to-be third-time captain, Gant – like Browning – is a rangier athlete who could provide a quality complement to Borland at Mike, particularly on passing downs. And with two years of developing his skill set and learning from Borland, Browning and the rest of Ohio State’s veteran linebackers, he should be ready to play as much as is needed.

“You just gotta go,” Gant said during the Buckeyes’ lone week of spring practice in March. “There's no really telling where people are going to end up. It's up to the coaches and how they see fit, what’s best for the team. So for just me personally, I just come out there and try to do the best I can with whatever I get.”

Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington was noncommittal when asked this spring about what his position group’s depth chart could look like this fall. But he did say that Gant, along with fellow third-year linebackers Mitchell and Pope, are players he will be counting on to step up and be a part of the rotation this year.

“Dallas Gant has got to roll,” Washington said. “When I say roll, they've got to play. And not just play; they've got to play at a high level. It's hard to think, ‘Oh, I'm just (a backup).’ I'm not thinking like that. I'm thinking like, ‘Look, he's going to call my number out there and I dog-gone better be ready to play.’”

In a year where depth could be as important as ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gant’s presence as one of many veterans in the linebacker room will be valuable even if he’s not starting. And he’s planned on working hard every day to show his coaches that they can trust him when called upon.

“Just showing that I know what I’m doing, and that I can compete,” Gant said. “That’s what I’ve been doing since I was a freshman. Just competing and doing the best I can and just showing that I know the defense as well as anybody else.”

”I just come out there and try to do the best I can with whatever I get.”– Dallas Gant

Beyond 2020

Since Borland, Browning, Werner and Hilliard are all seniors, Gant should finally get his chance to start in 2021, when he’s likely to be in line to succeed Borland as Ohio State’s top middle linebacker.

Given that Gant has yet to see substantial playing time on defense, one can wonder whether Ohio State should have redshirted him earlier in his career so that he’d still have three seasons of eligibility and a better shot at being a multi-year starter. As of this spring, however, there was no indication that Ohio State would consider redshirting Gant (or either of the other junior linebackers) this year to preserve his two remaining years of eligibility for 2021 and 2022.

Even one year as a starter for the Buckeyes next year, though, could be enough for Gant to establish himself as an NFL prospect, especially if he takes advantage of whatever role he gets in his junior year and makes plays when he is on the field.

With all the experience that will be departing Ohio State’s linebacker room after the upcoming season, Gant will also be among those looked upon to be a leader for the unit – and provide the same kind of guidance that Borland, Browning and others have provided for him – in 2021.

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