Nine Units Strong: Ohio State Linebackers

Led by three top-end starters but bolstered with plenty of depth, the Ohio State linebackers are one of the most complete units on the team.

OUTLOOK

At Ohio State, linebacker is not a spot where you run away from expectations.

That’s why, when Ohio State was showing off some of its preseason photo shoot shots, a picture appeared that looked like the beginnings of a remaking of the one that famously captured Anthony Schlegel, Bobby Carpenter and A.J. Hawk. When asked at Big Ten media days if that was intentional, senior Joshua Perry didn’t hesitate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We set the goal high, set the sights high. Darron and Raekwon and I found that picture and we had to do it. That to us is only motivation to become a great linebacking unit like they were. Those guys are still talked about and they’ll be talked about way down the road. I think it’s important that now that we’re getting to a level where we have confidence that we set some of those goals. We’re bringing back LBU, and that’s the whole unit. That doesn’t just come down to three guys you might see running out there. It comes down to all those guys I named being on the special units, doing a great job for us. That’s going to be huge.”

In a program where head coach Urban Meyer constantly stresses the need to be “nine units strong,” linebacker is unquestionably one of the strongest. In addition to Perry, the Buckeyes boast two more talented starters in sophomores Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan, both of whom landed on freshman All-American lists last season. There are three capable backups waiting in the wings, with senior Camren Williams at middle linebacker and sophomores Chris Worley and Dante Booker on the outside.

And then there are the true freshmen. Ohio State bagged three four-star linebackers, with each one hailing from a different Ohio city along I-71. There’s SLB Jerome Baker out of Cleveland Benedictine, MLB Nick Conner out of Dublin Scioto and WLB Justin Hilliard out of Cincinnati St. Xavier. Those additions have brought increased competition and further depth to a position group that was routinely criticized by Meyer during the 2013 season.

“Now we’re three deep,” Williams said. “We always talk about three levels of competition, and we have that in the linebacker room. Our expectations are a lot higher. We want to be the best unit we can be. Last year we didn’t talk about a lot of things. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we’re competing with each other, we grind with each other, we make each other a lot better. I think that’s something that hasn’t been that way in the past.”

Led by Luke Fickell – himself a former Silver Bullet – the linebackers appear well on their way to making the position a point of pride for Ohio State. As Lee explained, the challenge is to create an atmosphere of confidence that doesn’t develop into arrogance.

“Our coaches do a great job of making us get better every day and just keeping our head on straight,” Lee said. “We don’t get too big headed, and if you do, everyone will nip that in the butt. The chip always remains the same. We always feel that we’re the best, especially for defense. We always feel we have the best defense so we are going to try and go out and prove that.”

DEPTH CHART

SAM

Awaiting Image
Darron Lee
6'2" / 235 / RSo.
  • OLB
  • 43

Notes

Ohio State’s fiery strongside linebacker quickly developed a reputation as a playmaker when he scored the Buckeyes’ first touchdown of the 2014 season on a fumble return against Navy. He’s one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the country and has the numbers to back it up – in 2014, he finished with 7.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Christopher Worley
6'2" / 225 / RSo.
  • OLB
  • 35

Notes

Worley primarily saw the field via special teams in 2014, but he played enough at linebacker to finish with 13 tackles in his redshirt freshman campaign. Look for him to contribute as a rotating player who will serve as a backup in the two-deep this season.

Player Profile

MIKE

Awaiting Image
Raekwon McMillan
6'2" / 240 / So.
  • MLB
  • 5

Notes

After splitting time with Curtis Grant in 2014, McMillan will begin his sophomore season with the middle linebacker spot all to himself. Although he never started, he still managed to contribute 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks as a true freshman. There’s a good chance those numbers will multiply now that he’s jumped into a starting role.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Camren Williams
6'1" / 225 / Sr.
  • MLB
  • 55

Notes

Williams will spend his senior year coming off the bench, but he said he’s determined to push McMillan in practice. He’s done enough in his career to justify his role as a rotation guy, and he’ll likely see his share of time out on the field this season.

Player Profile

WILL

Awaiting Image
Joshua Perry
6'4" / 254 / Sr.
  • OLB
  • 37

Notes

The unquestioned leader at his position group, Perry is a lock to serve as a captain for the 2015 season. The talented senior led Ohio State with 124 tackles in 2014, and he also amassed three sacks for 18 yards and an interception.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Dante Booker
6'3" / 233 / So.
  • OLB
  • 33

Notes

Booker’s true freshman season got off to a rough start thanks to a foot injury, but it wasn’t enough to keep him off the field in the long term. Along with senior Camren Williams, he could be one of the first guys off the bench for the Buckeyes at linebacker.

Player Profile

ALSO IN THE MIX

Awaiting Image
Justin Hilliard
6'1" / 230 / Fr.
  • OLB
  • 47

Notes

Hilliard will begin his career at Ohio State wearing the retired No. 47 of Chic Harley, which tells you all you need to know about what the coaching staff thinks of him. Special teams will be his ticket to seeing the field at linebacker this season, where he’ll back up Perry and Booker at the Will spot.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Jerome Baker
6'1" / 215 / Fr.
  • OLB
  • 4

Notes

Baker was described by Joshua Perry as a “young Darron Lee,” which is fitting because that’s who he’ll slot behind on the depth chart at the Sam spot. The Cleveland Benedictine star originally committed to Florida in June 2014 before flipping to the Buckeyes last fall.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Nick Conner
6'3" / 230 / Fr.
  • MLB
  • 34

Notes

Conner got a head start on the other two true freshman linebackers by enrolling early, and he made a name for himself during the spring game. The Dublin Scioto product led the game in tackles with seven and also recorded a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and an interception.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Kyle Berger
6'2" / 230 / RFr.
  • OLB
  • 44

Notes

After tearing his ACL during his senior season of high school, Berger received more bad news in 2014 when he re-tore it shortly into fall camp. Ohio State is taking an overly cautious approach with the former Scout 100 recruit, but he could see the field this season if his recovery stays on track.

Player Profile

Awaiting Image
Craig Fada
6'1" / 230 / Sr.
  • OLB
  • 38

Notes

Although he’s a walk-on, Fada has proved plenty valuable to the Buckeyes on special teams. He’s also received some limited action at linebacker and likely will see some time again this season.

Player Profile

*Walk-on

Awaiting Image
Joe Burger
6'2" / 230 / Sr.
  • MLB
  • 48

Notes

Like his counterpart Craig Fada, Burger is a senior walk-on whose contributions have mainly come through special teams.

Player Profile

*Walk-on


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