One of the more intriguing storylines surrounding Ohio State’s defense heading into the 2017 was who would replace Raekwon McMillan at middle linebacker.
A two-year starter who recorded 221 tackles over the last two seasons, McMillan was the captain of the Buckeyes’ defense — one that happened to be one of the best in all of college football. His departure left a massive hole, no question.
So when Ohio State took the field Tuesday morning at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for its first spring practice of 2017, a lot of eyes shifted toward the middle of the Buckeyes’ defense to see who filled the void left by McMillan.
The answer was Chris Worley.
It was a bit of a surprise considering Worley was Ohio State’s starting SAM linebacker a year ago, a spot made for someone with his skill set. There seemed to be a more natural fit on the roster in Dante Booker, but it was Worley who was in the middle of the Buckeyes’ defense with Booker on one side and Jerome Baker on the other.
“That’s just Day 1, though, and that could change. We’re trying things out,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said after practice. “He’s got the mentality, but now we just have to see if his body can hang in there at the MIKE linebacker spot.”
“He’s got it all. Just gotta make sure he can hang in there.”
Worley is listed at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds on the Buckeyes’ spring practice roster. By comparison, McMillan was listed at 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds at Ohio State last season and he checked in at 240 pounds last week at the NFL Combine. Ten pounds doesn’t seem like a ton, but for the middle linebacker position and all it entails, it does make a difference.
Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, however, said Worley will be fine despite being a bit on the smaller side to play middle linebacker.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “Eat right, lift, train and he’ll be ready to play.”
Worley racked up 70 tackles (4.5 for loss) during his first year as Ohio State’s starting SAM linebacker. He’ll be a fifth-year senior in the fall and it’s that experience which allows the Buckeyes’ coaching staff to feel comfortable putting Worley in the middle of the defense.
“He’s just a really, really smart football player,” Schiano said. “He’s a guy that I think understands the game at a very, very high level.”
Things can still change, of course. It’s March. Ohio State doesn’t play an actual football game until the very last day in August.
But the early returns on Worley’s move from outside to inside are positive and the Buckeyes feel pretty good about how they’ve replaced a superstar.
“We lost what I think is a man’s man in Raekwon McMillan. Really fine football player, a smart football player,” Schiano said. “We needed to make sure that we could try to replace him with a guy that has that kind of presence about him. Just two days, but I am really impressed with these two days.”