The question hadn’t even finished before Jerome Baker offered a reply.
“Definitely,” Baker said, rather abruptly.
Ohio State’s junior outside linebacker was asked if he could tell his new position coach, Bill Davis, had NFL experience. It was pretty clear from his quick response that was exactly one of the first things Baker noticed.
“From the first meeting you could tell this has to be an NFL meeting room because the way he coached, his style, is geared toward pro athletes,” Baker said. “You could just tell he had been in the NFL for a few years.”
Twenty-four years to be exact. That’s how long Davis coached in the NFL prior to accepting a new role this winter as Ohio State’s linebackers coach. Davis replaced longtime assistant Luke Fickell, who finally got his shot at running his own program as the head coach at Cincinnati.
Ohio State's current crop of linebackers noticed Davis’ NFL experience from the get-go.
“There’s a lot of things that he’ll say and you have to really study it and really understand and if you don’t, you’ve got to ask questions,” Baker said. “He’s not going to keep going back and going over it. If you have something you’re struggling on, you have to go ask him.”
Added senior middle linebacker Chris Worley: “He definitely has an NFL feel to him. He’s a little different than Coach Fick about how they teach. They teach the same things, but they just teach it in a different way.”
The NFL approach resonates with Ohio State players because, let’s face it, just about every single one has aspirations of playing at the next level. That’s why many come to Columbus to play college football. They want to make it to the NFL.
And if there is someone who is capable of spotting at NFL linebacker, it might be the guy with 20-plus years experience coaching the position at that level.
“There’s a lot of meat left on the bone before I can say that,” Davis said. “I will say there’s a very athletic group. They’ve got great size and length and athleticism. All the pieces are there and now we just have to work our way into where we can say this is an NFL group.”
Under the direction of Fickell, Ohio State pumped out a ridiculous run of linebackers to the next level. From A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and James Laurinaitis to Ryan Shazier and Darron Lee. Raekwon McMillan is slated to be the next in line at next month’s NFL Draft.
Davis hopes to continue that pipeline.
“I think Coach Fickell did an outstanding job and the work speaks for itself. How many NFL players have Coach Fickell and the Ohio State Buckeyes under his coaching got into the NFL?” Davis said. “I think that’s real. There’s no team that has more NFL linebackers than Ohio State.”
“It’s a tradition that we’re very proud of but right now, the group that’s here cannot focus on any of that. They have to focus on being the best Ohio State Buckeye they can be and see what they can get done.”
The transition is ongoing. Fickell recruited and developed every member of Ohio State’s linebacker room and he’s no longer there. It would be difficult for anybody to just step right in and replace that.
But Davis has something a lot of other coaches don’t. He has been to where all of his players want to be.
“It’s up to us to kind of adapt to it because he’s still adapting as well,” Worley said. “He was in the NFL and there’s certain things that college does that the NFL don’t do and vice versa. We’re all kind of learning each other right now.”
“It prepares you for the future,” Baker added. “That’s my goal, to play in the NFL, so it’s preparing me and it’s fun just to be a part of it.”