Next Man Up: Ohio State Linebackers

Ohio State has dozens of four-star prospects who have yet to see significant time because of a playing time logjam over the last two season. Our Next Man Up series will focus on the inexperienced players at each position group who could make the leap this fall and contribute for the Buckeyes. Today we focus on the linebackers.

For years, Ohio State has been pumping out first round linebackers with relative ease. 

Two out of the last three seasons, the Buckeyes have sent a linebacker to the NFL Draft (Ryan Shazier, Darron Lee) and continue to reload at the position. 

While the Buckeyes will be without the services of Lee and Joshua Perry moving forward, Ohio State still has plenty of talent ready to step into their shoes. Even though the Silver Bullet’s lose two of their three starters at the linebacker spots from last season, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said he is not losing any sleep at night as the Buckeyes look ahead to 2016. 

 “When you put your head on the pillow and you have got great kids and you know they are going to continue to work, those things that they may be a little bit shy in, you have got great confidence that the next four months are big for us and in the growth of what we do,” he said.

“But they have got a sense of they understand and they have a chip on their shoulder, they know what the expectations are and when you have got guys that work like that, it makes you sleep a little bit easier.”

Lucky for the Buckeyes, Raekwon McMillan is enters his junior year with plenty of playing experience and will likely be flanked on one side by Chris Worley, who opened the 2014 season as a starter before the emergence of Lee. 

So who are the contenders to fill the other open spot and perhaps push Worley? These former four star recruits are hoping for the chance to become the next great Buckeye linebacker.

One of just four freshman that was not redshirted in 2015, Jerome Baker was able to see the field by way of special teams last season. After injuries to several special teams standouts occurred early on, Baker made his way onto the kickoff unit and recorded three tackles for Ohio State as a true freshman. He followed that up with an impressive 2016 spring game, leading the Scarlet squad with seven tackles and an athletic one-handed interception of Joey Burrow.

Dante Booker was a four star recruit in the 2014 class and saw time as a true freshman for the national championship squad, mostly on special teams. He has recorded 29 tackles in his collegiate career and appears to be the favorite to take over for Perry to round out Ohio State’s linebacker unit.

With a name like Tuf Borland, you have to imagine this guy is meant to play linebacker for the Buckeyes. Borland early enrolled at Ohio State in January and rotated in with the first team defense in the 2016 spring game. He collected three tackles and a pass breakup in his first collegiate action.

An early enrollee in January 2015, Nick Conner had a stellar spring for the Buckeyes. He stole the show defensively in the 2015 spring game, leading the Gray squad in tackles with seven, forcing a fumble and recording an interception in a 17-14 win for his team. Unfortunately for Conner, he was forced to redshirt the 2015 season after suffering a knee injury in early October. He likely will be in competition with the next player on this list for the right to backup McMillan in 2016.

Another four star recruit in the 2015 class, Hilliard also redshirted last season. A product of high school power St. Xavier in Cincinnati, Hilliard was granted the opportunity to wear No. 47 for Ohio State, a number that is retired in honor of Buckeye legend Chic Harley. He missed most of spring practice with an injury.

The No. 1 linebacker in the state of Maryland in the class of 2016, Keandre Jones was a last second signing for Urban Meyer’s staff. Jones arrives with plenty of hype, as he collected 119 total tackles as a senior in high school, adding four sacks and two interceptions at Our Lady Good Counsel High School. 

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