Ohio State football: Changes coming to Buckeyes’ linebacker corps

Change is coming to the Ohio State linebacker position.

That much Al Washington was willing to concede when he met with the media Thursday.

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The new coach was careful not to over-promise anything, though, for a position that was the source of frustration much of last season.

Here are four takeaways from talking to Washington:

1. The linebacker positions will be different. 

This was hinted at when Washington first met with reporters after being hired in January, but now it is confirmed.

Ohio State’s base defense used three more or less traditional linebackers last season — a “Will” (weak side), “Mike” (middle) and “Sam” (strong side).

The Sam is likely to be replaced at least most of the time by a hybrid safety/linebacker called the “Bullet” this season. Early on the players seeing time at that position are Brendan White and Jahsen Wint, who both continue to get reps at safety as well as the coaching staff learns what it has to work with overall.

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“The origination of that position was you take a guy who is maybe not as fast and you plug him into that position, but now that guy is a guy who can rush the passer,” Washington said. “Not every safety can do that. He has to be able to play at the line of scrimmage but cover man, a slot. Not every linebacker can do that.”

As for the other two slots, Washington said the Will and Sam are somewhat interchangeable, but the former will need to be able to handle some pass coverage responsibility while the latter should be a run-stuffer.

2. Washington still has a lot of players to learn about. 

The new coach is taking over a room that has 12 players, including starters Malik Harrison, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner plus Baron Browning and Justin Hilliard, both of whom are veterans who got considerable snaps last season.

He also has the challenge of evaluating what his veterans can do while checking out young, highly recruited players such as sophomores Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell and K’Vaughan Pope who don’t have much of a track record yet.

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And once that is done, he will in all likelihood only have two spots to divvying up playing time for — the Will and Sam — as none of those players are built to play the new Bullet position.

“I do feel good about the energy, the culture,” Washington said. “I feel good about our talent. People’s opinions are what they are. I just focus on my guys and helping them the next day to get better. Figure out what corrections need to be made, congratulate them on what they’re doing well and then strap it on and go back.”

3. There was a local shoutout. 

Beyond the four- and five-star recruits mentioned above, Washington also has multiple walk-ons proving depth.

The latter group includes a former GWOC standout who caught the eye of Washington on Thursday.

“Ben Schmiesing, Smeezy I call him, he’s a (redshirt) freshman walk-on from Piqua who was out there today getting a lot of reps (with the No. 2 unit) and ran the show,” Washington said. “It’s pretty cool to see stuff like that. And then you see Tuf working with him.”

4. At the end of the day, Washington is happy to be back home. 

Local reporters were eager to interview Washington not only because he coaches a position that was perceived to be a team weakness last season.

He’s also a Columbus native who is back in his hometown… after a year coaching at Michigan under head coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown.

“I’ve always been a scarlet and gray guy, but I’m gonna just say this: Jim Harbaugh, Don Brown, that guy, you talk about influential. I love him, and I learned so much from him. I’m proud to say that, so (leaving Michigan) was tough because of relationships, but I love being here for Ohio State,” Washington said. “This is Ohio State, but I just want to say that because it’s important to say.”

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