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Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning will push for playing time in 2018.

Will Ohio State’s linebackers rotate like cornerbacks in 2018?

Ryan Ginn

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Although I think it’s a position that might be generally less inclined to rotate than cornerback or defensive line, I do think it’s possible the Ohio State linebackers rotate this fall.

The biggest and most obvious trigger to a rotation would be if either Justin Hilliard or Baron Browning proves too good to keep off the field. Both players are taking middle linebacker reps while returning starter Tuf Borland recovers from an Achilles injury sustained during spring practice.

Borland has already shown he’s good enough to play — though he still has to get back to 100 percent — but the timeline for his return is uncertain and could drift into the season. If Hilliard or Browning shines during Borland’s absence, it could lead to multiple players getting middle linebacker reps. Linebacker coach Bill Davis has already said those two players will begin fall camp as the two middle linebackers since Borland will still be out.

“They’ll start [fall camp] at Mike,” Davis said. “I love the competition. All the positions are in such a strong battle, it’s so healthy. They’re all driven, they’re all helping each other. It’s a different animal you fight when you have solid starters and the backups think they’re backups. I don’t have backups that think they’re backups, and that’s a great thing. They’re swinging hard to improve every day to get to where they want to be.”

The other big reasons for a potential rotation are the depth at every position and the versatility to play different spots. Malik Harrison figures to occupy one starting spot on the outside, and Keandre Jones could win the other spot. That would leave Dante Booker and Pete Werner — two players coaches have complimented in the past — on the outside looking in. Additionally, Hilliard or Browning could enter the mix at one of the outside spots if Borland comes back and there’s no rotation at middle linebacker. Most of the linebackers know how to play multiple positions, so there could be lots of mixing and matching.

“That’s one of the great things about the flexibility of the defense and the scheme, is that if we can teach them and train them right, they have that ability to move out there,” Davis said. “So you put your next best player out there, not just the next guy that knows Will if that makes sense.”

The bet here is that the talent level and versatility of the position group will lead to more than three players seeing meaningful snaps this fall.

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