COLUMBUS, Ohio — Linebacker could be the most dependable position group for Ohio State football as it heads into the 2017 season.
The Buckeyes lost Raekwon McMillan, but it’s as though they return three starters even without him. Fifth-year senior Chris Worley will slide over from the outside to fill McMillan’s spot in the middle. Worley’s role as the strongside linebacker will go to Dante Booker, who was slated to start at weakside linebacker in 2016 until he sustained a season-ending knee injury. He was replaced as a starter by Jerome Baker, who performed well enough to stay in that spot this year.
Despite the alignment shakeups, those three players offer an enviable mix of athleticism, experience and intelligence that should make them key contributors in 2017.
Here are three things to know about Ohio State’s linebackers from their post-practice interview session on Thursday.
Jerome Baker is only getting better
Baker already has the look of a star, thanks to his breakout season last year. He finished with 83 tackles, 9 1/2 tackles for loss, 3 1/2 sacks and 2 interceptions in his first year as a starter.
Just as important was how he made some of those plays, using his eye-popping athleticism to dominate the highlight reels. Now consider that Baker said Thursday he’s since noticed that he was frequently standing somewhere he shouldn’t have.
“I lined up wrong most of the time,” he said. “Watching on TV you don’t notice it, but watching film you see it. I lined up wrong pretty much all the time.”
Most of the time it was a step here or a step there — nothing drastic — but it still makes you wonder how effective he might have been if he hadn’t cost himself those extra yards before the play.
He got things figured out in the film room, and linebackers coach Bill Davis said Baker is scarier than ever.
“With Jerome, his football IQ is high to begin with, and I think it’s growing,” he said. “When you take a fast player who’s twitched up like he is and he thinks clearly and knows he knows, now you actually increase his speed. Jerome is getting faster and faster with the stronger understanding he has.”
Booker vs. Baker
Booker hasn’t been viewed as the caliber of athlete that Baker is, but maybe it’s time to rethink that. After all, Booker was going to start over Baker in 2016 until his injury.
No Ohio State linebacker can touch Baker’s athleticism, but it sounds as if the two outside linebackers are more similar than some might think.
“Maybe not every bit as fast, but it’s close,” Davis said. “It’s tough to be as fast as Jerome.
“[Booker] has the explosiveness, the twitch, the speed, the power. They’re both very, very similar.”
The three starters aren’t expected to rotate with backups, but it’s always worth looking ahead to see who might be making a push for that role in the future. Booker is evidence that injuries happen, and it’s also feasible that all three starters could head off to the NFL after this season.
Injuries have prevented Ohio State from developing a true pecking order — Malik Harrison and Baron Browning have been in non-contact jerseys, thanks to offseason shoulder surgeries — but Davis said his team has quality depth at every spot.
“We’ve got a lot of solid backups,” he said. “We’re really three deep. We’re happy with that. Now we’ve got some guys in orange shirts who are working through shoulders [injuries], so there’s guys not getting as many reps as we would like to see to see pure competition happen. But we believe we’re three deep at every position.”
He mentioned Harrison as a player to watch, noting his combination of size and athleticism. Baker chose two other players when asked who’d been impressing him in practice.
“I’m going to say Keandre Jones and Tuf Borland,” he said. “That guy [Borland] is a monster. He will hit anybody. If you’re in his gap, you’re going to feel him.”
The post Ohio State football: 3 observations from linebackers interviews appeared first on Land of 10.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.