COLUMBUS, Ohio — There’s nothing easy about having to play behind linebackers such as Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan. Chris Worley, a fifth-year linebacker for Ohio State — now the starting middle linebacker for the Buckeyes — knows that. He’s been patiently waiting his turn in Columbus and it appears he’s ready to step into the spotlight.
On Tuesday, the Cleveland native spoke openly about his transition to the inside of the Ohio State defense and pulled no punches as to why he’s the right man for the job.
“You kind of saw it the last couple games (of the 2016 regular season),” Worley said about the move to the middle. “I was in the box a lot, based on the type of offense. I did pretty good. Double-digit tackles against (Michigan) and 8 tackles and an interception (against Michigan State). I’m very comfortable in the box, so I’m very excited to see how it all unfolds.”
New Ohio State linebackers coach Billy Davis also talked about the move, suggesting that Worley’s leadership role on the team makes him a perfect fit for the spot Davis termed the “quarterback” of the defense.
“He’s got all the size to play in there, especially in the college game,” Davis said. “He’s a great leader in there, he’s very vocal and everybody follows him, he knows what he’s doing. He’s a great quarterback for us … that Mike (middle) backer is our quarterback. He has to understand everybody’s job, he has to line them up. One thing about Mike backer is you not only have to line up others, you have to be able to do your own job after that. Not everybody can do that.”
The suddenly confident linebacker said that setting up his defense and making plays isn’t that tough of a combination for him.
“I’m a highly intelligent guy on that football field,” Worley said. “It’s not that big of a burden on me, you know what I’m saying, to get other guys lined up. I’m just kind of embracing it, going with the flow.”
Worley doubled-down on his capabilities. He feels that no matter where he lines up, he’s going to make a difference for the Buckeyes.
“I feel like I’m one of the most dynamic players in the country, honestly,” he said. “I played safety, and did pretty good at safety. Then they asked me to move to Sam (strong-side linebacker), I moved to Sam and I battled with a first-rounder to the end of the first game, honestly. That speaks a lot about Darron (Lee) but it also speaks a lot about myself. That was battle I’ll never forget because it made us both better. That’s two positions right there, but I can also play Mike or Will (weak side) and play it with the best of them.”
If it seems that Worley is feeling himself a bit, he may be. He says that’s always been a piece of his personality, but that now is the time to unleash it.
“I’ve always been crazy confident,” Worley said. “You can ask any coach. When I’m on that field, I’m just different. You can ask J.T. (Barrett) or whoever. I’ve always been crazy confident, but I’m just being more vocal about it. A lot of times, the outside world can’t see how confident — whatever you call it — cocky, talk too much, over vocal, but I’ve always had it. I just went with the flow and kind of felt my way out. I didn’t want to be the biggest loudmouth (who) wasn’t even really touching the field in the ways I wanted to, I played special teams. Sometimes it’s better to just go under the radar and just help the team in any way that they need you. I feel like now I’m in a position I can be more vocal.”
Though he’s more assertive now, Worley knows he was a leader for the Buckeyes last season.
“I feel like — Raekwon was definitely the leader, that’s kind of how it happens, middle linebacker, quarterback, they have to be a leaders or the team won’t go — but I was still a leader last year. I helped a lot of guys out it. It’s just another notch now, me moving to Mike. I’m ready for it.”