Going into the season, the linebacking crew was a question mark. After losing a first-round draft pick in Darron Lee and a third round pick in Joshua Perry, it was reasonable to wonder who would step up. Luckily for the Buckeyes, they had the leader of their defense, Raekwon McMillan, back this year as only one of three returning starters on the defensive side of the ball. With Lee and Perry departing to the NFL, the next two linebackers to fill their role were senior Chris Worley and junior Dante Booker. Unfortunately for Booker, he’s been dealing with an MCL sprain that has kept him out for several weeks now.

Stepping up in Booker’s shoes has been sophomore Jerome Baker. Baker appeared in the last seven games of the Buckeyes’ season last year where he mostly contributed on special teams. With the linebacking trio of McMillan, Worley, and Baker, McMillan was suppose to be the headline name that offenses had to game plan for each week. After all, he’s the captain of this defense at middle linebacker and seems to be a sure-fire top upcoming NFL pick. It hasn’t been that McMillan has been playing badly, but his stats do not seem to exactly be where they were last year. But a lot of that is due to the emergence of Worley and Baker.

Just in the last two games, Baker has had 24 tackles. It seems like every time a play has been stopped in the backfield, Baker is right in the middle of it. He has crazy acceleration and has been a sure tackler for this Buckeye defense. Going back to the Spring Game, Baker made an unbelievable one-handed interception that spread all around to the sports world shortly after. Baker has always been a prospect that I’ve watched closely due to his recruitment. He started off as a Florida verbal commit but later decommitted from the Gators and pledged to the Buckeyes. Being from Cleveland, he was a prospect that the Buckeyes couldn’t miss on, so kudos to the recruiting staff for continually going after Baker, even after his Florida verbal commit.

The way Baker has been playing, I feel like he’s secured his job for the rest of the season barring injury. A lot of coaches will argue that a player cannot lose his job because of injury. Dante Booker seemed like he was going to have a great start to his season, but this MCL sprain seems to really be affecting him. However, Baker has been playing so well that it seems like Urban Meyer will continue to ride the hot player in Baker, even will Booker comes back this season.

On the other side, Chris Worley has quietly been having a great season as well. After having a breakout game against Oklahoma where he accounted for 10 tackles, Worley had been relatively quiet the past two weeks. However, this past week against Wisconsin, he seemed to be all over the field. His most memorable play was early in the game where Corey Clement broke a long run and Worley chased him down and forced a fumble. Unfortunately, Clement touched the ball when he was out of bounds, so the Buckeyes did not end up recovering the fumble. However, the chase down job of Worley did not go unnoticed by fans or the coaching staff. That’s the kind of effort Buckeye fans have been accustomed to seeing these past few years.

It’s great to see the breakout performances for Baker and Worley these past few weeks. Ohio State has been putting linebackers into the NFL at an incredible rate lately, so these three players, Booker included, have had to wait their turn. These guys have had the opportunity to learn behind Ryan Shazier, Darron Lee, and Joshua Perry so it was always safe to assume they gained some great knowledge. Shazier and Lee possessed the freakish speed that Baker has while Perry had incredible knowledge and tackling ability that Worley has seemed to incorporate in his game.

With these two linebackers wrecking havoc, we are seeing a complete linebacking crew here with this team. Raekwon will continue to get the headlining news and deservedly so. But the BIG better be on lookout for these two because it’s no longer just McMillan in the linebacker corps. Linebacker U is back and well in Columbus.

Twitter: @Atalanca

(Picture via 247sports)



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