Football

Spring Gleaning: Still Plenty Of Questions At Linebacker For Buckeyes

Now that spring football is over, it’s time to look back at exactly what we just saw. We’ll continue going over each position group for the rest of the week with what was learned and what still needs to happen. Up next will be the Ohio State linebackers.

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Quick Position Overview

Where to begin? Ohio State loses its top four linebackers from last season which has created a void of experience at the position. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they do return three linebackers in Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell, and K’Vaughan Pope who are all seniors and have compiled enough experience in their time at Ohio State to not be greenhorns. Redshirt sophomore Tommy Eichenberg is competing for the middle linebacker job. Second-year players Cody Simon and Mitchell Melton have promise, though Melton suffered an injury this spring and is likely out for the season. True freshman Reid Carrico enrolled early. Redshirt sophomore Craig Young can play Sam or Bullet.

Expectations Going In

The expectations differed based on who you would ask. One school of thought was that the three seniors would simply take one step forward from the backup positions they had last year to new starting positions this year. The other school of thought was that the Buckeyes would be moving to more of a hybrid Sam (i.e. the Bullet) because of how things ended last season and also because that’s just a normal way to do defense in today’s game.

Reality Coming Out

Dallas Gant didn’t get an opportunity to take over at the Mike because he was out with a foot injury. Teradja Mitchell was with the ones at his customary Will position. Cody Simon and Tommy Eichenberg also spent time with the ones on the inside, as apparently K’Vaughan Pope did as well. Based on innuendo and comments from coaches, it sure seems like the Buckeyes took all of their linebackers and crammed them into the two inside spots of Will and Mike, with the outside spot being a Bullet. They obviously still have the capability of putting an actual Sam linebacker on the field, but it sure didn’t get talked about that much over the course of the spring.

Any Surprises?

The lack of any information about the Sam linebackers was a bit of a surprise. There was a point in time when there were no players left to actually play the Sam. Every healthy linebacker was moved to the inside, which is pretty much what was seen in the spring game as well. With Dallas Gant and Mitchell Melton out, that put the numbers in a bind, but did it really have an impact on the move of everybody to Will and Mike? After spring, defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said the move to the Bullet isn’t necessarily permanent and the lack of numbers at linebacker allowed them to look at different things. He also said that the best 11 would play and that would determine whether they go Sam or Bullet.

Unanswered Question

Who are the starters this year? Dallas Gant is supposed to be the guy in the middle but he was out. Younger players got a look and by all accounts performed pretty well. There may not even be a Sam, and if there is, there’s no telling who the No. 1 guy is right now. Teradja Mitchell seems like the best bet to start right now but that may possibly be impacted by the transfer portal here in the very near future.

So Now What?

So now the Buckeyes await word on Tennessee linebacker transfer Henry To’o To’o. To’o To’o was a Second-Team All-SEC pick last year at middle linebacker for the Vols. Should he choose to transfer to Ohio State, he would seemingly throw the entire room for a loop. Ryan Day wouldn’t bring him in if he wasn’t a good cultural fit but that doesn’t mean things would be ice cream and cherries early on.

One Concern

Despite a room full of upperclassmen — including three seniors — there just isn’t a lot of experience at linebacker for the Buckeyes. Mitchell was the only one of the three senior linebackers to see time on defense in each game last year, but played all of 16 snaps in the postseason. The question is whether or not the linebackers have played enough games to learn from their mistakes. Or are there mistakes that still need to be made?

Are We Sure?

Are we sure the Buckeyes are moving to a Bullet in the base defense?

Quotable

“The unit is looking very, very strong. Their attitude’s been great. The best thing we have is competition and I think everybody is competing. And so when that happens I think you get everybody’s best. We still have to improve every day. We’re three practices in, but you can see the growth every day. Our goal is at the end of the 15 practices be better in every way leading into the fall. So, it’s been a good thing, it’s been a positive thing so far. They’ve come out with a great attitude. It is a great challenge in a lot of ways, but in the same breath this is the evolution of football, especially in college. And this is this is why they come to Ohio State. This is what it’s about. Next guy’s up. Take advantage of your opportunity. Believe in yourself and compete. And every day, be able to identify the things that you need to improve on. And so that’s been our message, is ‘hey, we’ve got to be fully conscious every day. And we’ve got to be really hard on ourselves. e have to be focused on how we can improve.’ And over time we’ll get better.” — Linebacker coach Al Washington early on in spring when asked about the daunting task of replacing four seniors.

Depth Chart

Will

3 Teradja Mitchell | Senior | 6-2 235
Ohio State fans have been waiting to see Teradja Mitchell in the starting lineup for years and they may finally get their wish this year. Mitchell is a physical defender who is done waiting.
30 Cody Simon | Sophomore | 6-2 232 OR
Everything coming out of the WHAC about Cody Simon has been positive and he did nothing this spring to change any of the rumblings about his potential. Could show up at Mike too.
36 K’Vaughan Pope | Senior | 6-1 225
KVaughan Pope split time with Craig Young last year as the No. 3 Sam behind Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard. He was on the inside some this spring but could show up anywhere.
20 Mitchell Melton | Redshirt Freshman | 6-3 242 | Injured
The staff is very high on Mitchell Melton but he suffered an injury and it sounds like he will be out for the season. When he returns next year he could technically be a third-year redshirt freshman.

Mike

19 Dallas Gant | Senior | 6-3 235 OR
Missing the spring is a significant development for Dallas Gant because it allowed other players to stake a claim to the spot. He will need to re-establish his spot once he’s fully healthy this summer.
35 Tommy Eichenberg | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-2 235
Linebackers coach Al Washington loves Tommy Eichenberg’s abilities as a contact seeker. After seeing almost no time his first two years, can he find a significant role on this defense?
28 Reid Carrico | Freshman | 6-2 228
Reid Carrico is just a true freshman and things are very congested on the inside for the Buckeyes. There will certainly be opportunities for him to shine on special teams first.

Sam

15 Craig Young | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-3 223 OR
When reporters got to see practices, Craig Young was working with the safeties as a Bullet, but could certainly find himself at linebacker again like he was last season.
36 K’Vaughan Pope | Senior | 6-2 225
K’Vaughan Pope spent some time on the inside but has also spent the last couple of years as one of the backups at Sam. He is a versatile defender who could probably play all three spots.
2 Kourt Williams | Redshirt Freshman | 6-1 215
Kourt Williams is set to be in the three-deep at Bullet this year but that role could also morph into the Sam. He’s a big safety who has dropped some weight in preparation for 2021.