Ohio State must replace veteran linebackers Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, Baron Browning, and Justin Hilliard, who combined for nearly 100 career starts over the years. It was a talented, experienced, and versatile group last year, and one that won’t soon be forgotten. There is versatility and talent among the linebackers returning, but the experience is lacking. This spring will help that, especially with the likeliest starters being seniors and upperclassmen. Being older, linebackers like Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, K’Vaughan Pope, and Craig Young shouldn’t be seeing anything they didn’t already know, it’s just now there is actually a starting job up for grabs, which increases the pressure as well as the excitement.
3 Teradja Mitchell Sr
39 Cody Simon Soph
NA Reid Carrico Fr
19 Dallas Gant Sr
35 Tommy Eichenberg rSoph
37 Mitchell Melton rFr
25 Craig Young rSoph OR
36 K’Vaughan Pope Sr
- Is the Bullet going to make a comeback?
- How much mixing and matching will there be this spring in terms of figuring out who is a Will, who is a Mike, and who is a Sam?
- Can somebody step up and take a job from one of the seniors?
While nothing is really known at this point, given the fact that Dallas Gant has been the backup at middle linebacker for the past two years and Teradja Mitchell has been the backup at Will for the last two years and K’Vaughan Pope has been the No. 3 at Sam the last two years, it sure would seem that each of those guys just moves to the top of the list this year because everybody in front of them is now off to the NFL. It may not be as simple at Sam where Craig Young received more snaps at the start of the season than Pope. Second year players Cody Simon and Mitchell Melton have looked good in workouts and could end up elsewhere than the best-guess depth chart above.
What Needs to Happen
There are two main things that need to happen this spring. The first is that the Buckeyes need to zero in on who their middle linebacker will be. He’s the guy that will be running the defense, so it’s important to find him. Dallas Gant was the backup last year. However, when Tuf Borland missed a game due to a positive COVID test last year, it was Baron Browning who slid inside and played Mike, not Gant. If Gant is now the guy, he’ll need to show it this spring. The other need for Al Washington is to simply find his three best linebackers so he can go from there. The three best will play, whoever they end up being.
This being Ohio State, there should three players good enough to start. It would be bad if a true Mike didn’t step up this spring, but there are six or seven guys that they can try there if there are questions. As a whole, the Buckeyes are replacing four very reliable defenders. If reliability is an issue this spring, that would not be good. There are five upperclassmen among the linebackers and they need to produce like it. The expectations are that they will, but until they do, it’s a concern.
Keep An Eye On
The best individual battle to watch could be between K’Vaughan Pope and Craig Young at Sam. Young played more than Pope to start last year, but Young then didn’t play in any of the four final games. Both players are versatile defenders, but in different ways. Young has spent some time as a scout team safety, while Pope could also fit in somewhere as an inside linebacker. Young’s athleticism is intriguing, but Pope has shown a penchant for being in the right place at the right time in his limited opportunities. Of course, all of this may become moot if the Buckeyes choose to employ more of a hybrid “Bullet” at this spot on passing downs.
One Last Thing
Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant, and K’Vaughan Pope have patiently waited their respective turns and this spring is the first time they will get to truly compete for a starting job. If they don’t attack this with crazy enthusiasm, it would be a shock. They should be leading the entire group and they’ll be doing it with an energy that could be good for the entire unit. But there is still an opportunity for the young linebackers to find a role, and possibly a big one. There are no solid answers right now, which means reps can be won this spring by anybody. Even a true freshman like Reid Carrico.