“In the time of darkest defeat, victory may be nearest.” ~ William McKinley
I have to give some props to President McKinley. Born in Niles, Ohio, McKinley was the last American President to have served in the military in The Civil War, so McKinley certainly knew what he was talking about when it came to defeats and victory.
To say that the 2016 Ohio State football season ended with a thud is an understatement. While I certainly believed Clemson was capable of defeating Ohio State in The 2016 Fiesta Bowl, I never thought Ohio State would be so thoroughly outplayed, and, let’s be honest Ohio State fans, outcoached.
As badly as I felt about that loss on New Year’s Eve, the Ohio State coaches and players felt the sting of that loss much more so. Dramatic overhauls along the coaching staff, combined with early departures of players for the 2017 NFL Draft, have Ohio State with questions to answer as spring football begins in Columbus on March 7th.
For the next several weeks, I will be writing position group previews, leading up to the Ohio State Spring Football Game in Ohio Stadium on April 15th, 2017. These position groups will be ranked, from least to most concern, as I perceive them. It is entirely possible that my concerns, as well as the coaching staff’s concerns, will be reevaluated after the spring game.
7th – Linebackers
Players Lost: Raekwon McMillan, Joe Burger, Craig Fada. While Burger and Fada were primarily special teams contributors and backups, both will be missed. McMillan declared early for the 2017 NFL Draft, and leaves a gaping hole at middle linebacker.
Returning Players/Incoming Players: Jerome Baker (Junior), Dante Booker (Redshirt Junior), Tuf Borland (Redshirt Freshman), Baron Browning (Freshman), Nick Conner (Redshirt Sophomore), Malik Harrison (Sophomore), Justin Hilliard (Redshirt Sophomore), Keandre Jones (Sophomore), Pete Werner (Freshman), Brendon White (Freshman), Chris Worley (Redshirt Senior)
A few things to keep in mind for this position group…
- It is a far cry from the days when Ohio State needed to switch Zach Boren from fullback to linebacker in the latter stages of the 2012 season. Ohio State has been recruiting linebacker well over the past seasons, with Raekwon McMillan the latest player who will project as a high NFL draft pick.
- The speculation on who will be manning the crucial middle linebacker spot is going to bear watching all spring. Could it be Dante Booker? Christopher Worley? Baron Browning as a true freshman?
- Chris Worley filled in capably for Dante Booker at outside linebacker, but perhaps Worley may be best suited in the middle, calling out the signals for the defense. Worley made key plays throughout 2016, such as this interception at Michigan State.
- Tuf Borland and Nick Conner are two names who fit the darkhorse profile. Neither were recruited with as many of the accolades as some of the other linebackers, but could one of those players fill the middle linebacker spot? Conner had a banner spring game back in 2015, but redshirted in 2015, and was not a factor in 2016.
- Justin Hilliard has battled injuries since arriving in Columbus. Could Hilliard finally make a move at middle linebacker?
- The ‘X’ factor in the whole linebacker equation is new linebackers coach Bill Davis. Taking over for Luke Fickell, Davis may want to mix and match players to see which of them best fits what he is looking for at the position.
The 2016 Ohio State football season did not end on a positive note. Spring practices in 2017 can show the Ohio State coaches, players, and fans that the 2017 season will not end in a similar fashion.