COLUMBUS, Ohio — Although Ohio State is set to return 15 starters this season, the Buckeyes still have holes to fill. That includes the “quarterback” of Ohio State’s defense for each of the past two seasons, Raekwon McMillan.
A former 5-star prospect, McMillan lived up to lofty expectations over the course of his college career. Last month, the Miami Dolphins selected the second-team All-American in the second round (54th overall) in the NFL draft.
Now, the Buckeyes are tasked with replacing the player who served as the heart and soul of their defense for the past two years. Fortunately for Ohio State, however, Urban Meyer appears to have already found a solution to filling the void that McMillan left.
What exactly are the Buckeyes replacing and how will they do it? Let’s take a look.
After arriving at Ohio State as the top-ranked inside linebacker in the 2014 class, McMillan earned significant playing time throughout the Buckeyes’ run to the first-ever College Football Playoff championship. When Curtis Grant’s eligibility expired, the Georgia native took over as Ohio State’s starting middle linebacker and became a Butkus Award finalist while tallying a team-high 119 tackles, 4 of which came for a loss, and 1.5 sacks.
In 2016, McMillan again led the Buckeyes in tackles, recording 102 in his junior season. Declaring for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining, McMillan finished his college career with 275 tackles, 18 of which came for a loss, 6 sacks, 1 interception and 10 passes defended.
Although Ohio State has recruited well at linebacker over the course of Meyer’s tenure, the race to replace McMillan appears to have ended before it started. When the Buckeyes opened spring practice, they had already shifted senior Chris Worley to Mike in an effort to add a veteran presence to the middle of Ohio State’s defense.
Last year’s starting Sam, Worley recorded 69 tackles, 4.5 of which came for a loss, and 4 passes defended in his first season as a starter. His move to the middle will allow fellow veteran linebackers Jerome Baker and Dante Booker to star on the outside.
Like McMillan did in 2014, it’s possible 5-star freshman Baron Browning could earn reps this fall, potentially at the expense of Worley. But after arriving as an early enrollee this past winter, the Texas native missed the bulk of spring practice because of a shoulder injury.
What Ohio State’s coaches are saying
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer on Worley: “He’s got the mentality. Now we just have to see if his body can hang in there at the Mike linebacker spot. He’s got it all. Just gotta make sure he can hang in there.”
Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano: “He’s just a really, really smart football player. He’s a guy that I think understands the game at a very, very high level.”
As Meyer mentioned, if there’s one concern about Worley at the Mike linebacker spot, it’s his size. After initially arriving in Columbus as a safety, the Cleveland native now measures 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. For comparison’s sake, McMillan was listed at 6-foot-2 and 243 pounds in his junior campaign.
The Buckeyes staff, however, believes Worley’s instincts will help him overcome any physical shortcomings. Considering the player he’s replacing, expectations for the fifth-year senior will be high. But this is one void in the Ohio State lineup the Buckeyes already know how they’ll fill.