Ohio State signed three linebackers last Wednesday for the 2016 recruiting class, and this is a position that is short on experience.
How will the freshmen fit in, and what does this position group look like heading into the 2016 season? Let's take a look.
DEPARTING: Both Darron Lee and Josh Perry walking out the door hurts from a talent standpoint, but these two also brought a wealth of experience to the field. Cam Williams is gone also, and he provided depth and leadership.
INJURED: Two players that Ohio State fans never got to see at their best are Devan Bogard and Kyle Berger, and both had enough talent to play for the Buckeyes.
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: Ohio State has one player they can count on to play at a high level, and that's Raekwon McMillan. As a junior, and probably his last season as a Buckeye, McMillan might be All-America material. Backing him up is redshirt freshman Nick Conner, who is out with a knee injury. As long as McMillan stays healthy there are no worries at this position, but behind him are question marks. I'm not counting walkons, because if they're playing you have problems anyway.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: There are a couple guys that got token minutes last year, but this is mostly a new group of players.
Dante Booker: Did get in some games last year and looked like an inexperienced redshirt freshman. Have to hope another year of development has him ready to play at this level. He has a lot of physical tools, but must play more aggressively. Favorite to land Perry's spot.
Christopher Worley: Has been around a while without distinguishing himself as a player Ohio State trusts to play starter's minutes. Has actually been given opportunities to establish himself as the first guy in behind the starters, but has never grabbed that role. Now, or never, for Worley. Probably gets first run at Lee's spot.
Jerome Baker: Did not redshirt last season, but only saw action on special teams. Has a world of talent, including the ability to run to the football that Lee and Ryan Shazier have. It's going to be hard to keep him off the field this season, and he could be Lee's replacement. Baker is undersized and inexperienced, but he has the skill set that should translate to the field.
Justin Hilliard: Received mixed reviews last year, and also suffered a bicep injury that will keep him out of contact in spring football. Will probably battle Booker for Perry's spot on the field, as I don't think he has the speed/athleticism to play Lee's position. Needs to get healthy and get reps.
INCOMING FRESHMEN: Hard to see any of these guys being ready to contribute right away.
Keandre Jones: Only weighs around 210-pounds right now, so it's hard to see him being physically ready to play as a true freshman. Should redshirt and add bulk and strength in the weight room, but if any of these guys would be ready to contribute, it might be Jones. Would play Lee's spot.
Tuf Borland: A good, solid player that will more than likely need a redshirt season to learn the college game and adjust to the higher level of competition. Would probably be in the mix at either middle linebacker, or at Perry's outside spot.
Malik Harrison: An athletic project that's going to need a few years to develop on this side of the football. Will not be ready to contribute next season at linebacker.
OVERALL SUMMARY: Very similar situation to the defensive backfield, where there is only one proven talent that everyone knows can play at a high level. Like with Conley, only McMillan is a given as a player. There are a lot of young talents at linebacker, and it's a question of who steps up and grabs the two open starting spots. My guess would be it's McMillan, Booker and Baker, and that leaves you very young and inexperienced on the outside.