Ohio State football: Expect epic battles at linebacker positions

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 29: Sam Darnold /

When the Ohio State football team begins fall camp there are sure to be stiff competitions everywhere, but none more so than at the LB positions.

Each year since Urban Meyer took over the Ohio State football program it has been expected there would be competitive battles in every unit during fall camp. Players have moved on to the NFL and there will be talented young players competing for the open spots, and that will be the case once again this year.

It will be interesting to see which players earn a starting spot or make the two deep at any position with their performances this month. But the competition at the linebacker positions promise to be some of the most interesting battles during the Urban era.

First, let’s take a look at the veterans in the unit. One will have his final chance to make his mark and it could be the case with another as well.

Senior Dante Booker appeared to be the guy who would fill outside linebacker Joshua Perry’s shoes when he moved on to the NFL after the 2015 season. An injury derailed him in 2016 and Jerome Baker took his place. 

Everybody knows how that played out as Baker will now be playing on Sundays. Last year Booker had a difficult time staying healthy once again when he had another opportunity. This is Booker’s last chance, so if he is healthy you can bet he will be competing hard for one more shot.

Health issues have also been a problem for Justin Hilliard during his three years at Ohio State. Last season was the first time the former 5-star recruit was healthy enough to contribute. He has a legitimate chance to make some noise this year at middle linebacker as Tuf Borland is recovering from an Achilles injury,

With younger guys vying for playing time things really get interesting. First a look at the leader in the clubhouse to earn a starting spot.

It would be a surprise if Malik Harrison doesn’t start at one outside linebacker position. The 6 ft. 3, 245 pound junior stepped in last year due to injuries and performed very well, registering 36 tackles with three of them for a loss.

Keandre Jones is another junior who has been a fine special teams player his first two years and has progressed well. The coaching staff is high on Jones so expect to hear plenty about him during fall camp.

Baron Browning and Pete Werner are true sophomores who will make a lot of noise this month.

Browning was the No. 1 OLB in the 2017 recruiting class and has lived up to his billing. He performed well in limited playing time last season and the coaching staff raves about him. Expect this 6 ft. 3, 240 pound young man to become a star.

Werner is listed at 6 ft. 3, 236 pounds and excelled on special teams as a freshman. He was impressive during spring practices as well. I expect him to compete for a starting position, and he will at least be in the rotation.

Both Browning and Werner have the size and athleticism to play either the middle or on edge. Wherever they end up playing, expect to see the two to be on the field often this season.

There are freshman who could push the veterans as well.

Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan  Pope are the new guys in the LB unit.

Pope was the No. 9 rated ILB in the 2018 recruiting class but his reported weight was 210 pounds. I thought any chance of him seeing the field this year would be on special teams but he now weighs 226 pounds.

Who knows, Pope may be an undersized linebacker you just can’t keep off the field. That was the case with Brian Rolle wasn’t it?

Gant enrolled early, had a fine spring and has the advantage of being in coach Mick’s strength and conditioning program for months. The 6 ft. 3, 225 pound outside linebacker will make a strong case to be in the rotation .

Mitchell has a golden opportunity because of the situation at middle linebacker. At 236 pounds he may already have the size and strength to take the pounding an inside linebacker has to endure.

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Raekwon McMillan was just a few pounds heavier his freshman year when he was a key player in Ohio State’s drive to the national title. Mitchell was the No. 2 ILB in the 2018 recruiting class and may be ready to compete for the backup spot in the middle during fall camp.

With talented players battling at each position, only someone with a crystal ball could accurately predict how the two deep in the LB unit will shake out this month, and I don’t have one. However, these things I am certain will happen before the Buckeyes play their first game against Oregon State.

Malik Harrison will be starting at one outside linebacker position and Baron Browning will have earned a starting job either in the middle or on the edge. Also, Keandre Jones and Pete Werner will have proven they deserve to see plenty of playing time as a starter or a key backup.

Right guy at the right time. dark. Next

And heading into the season Urban Meyer will have the most talented and deepest LB unit since he became the Ohio State head coach. Count on it.