COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s veteran linebackers — Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell and K’Vaughan Pope — have been waiting. And waiting. And waiting for their turn to play.
Now approaching their fourth season in the Buckeyes program, Gant, Mitchell and Pope might be the prime candidates to be OSU’s starting linebackers this season.
With Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, Justin Hilliard and Baron Browning getting almost all of the snaps last season, Gant had 17 tackles. Mitchell, who was ranked No. 44 nationally in the 2018 recruiting class, had six and Pope had just two.
All of which leads to the question, were the guys playing ahead of them that good or were the three linebackers in waiting, who all arrived as 4-star recruits, unable to convince the coaches they should take playing time away from the four linebackers at the top of last year’s depth chart.
If Ohio State is going to have the kind of season it expects this season and every season, Gant, Mitchell and Pope are going to have to make bigger contributions than they have made in their first three seasons. And those contributions will have to be in all areas, including leadership.
If they don’t, younger linebackers like Cody Simon,Craig Young, Mitchell Melton and Tommy Eichenberg might get an opportunity to play.
“As much as we need to step up our production and playing and all that, we also need to step up as leaders as well. It’s a big stride that you have to take,” Gant said during a Zoom conference call last week.
“Losing those four guys, those are really big leadership guys. “Two of them were captains. Two others played a really big part in leading this group and leading this team. That role has been put on me and the older guys, Teradja and K’Vaughan, to be leaders and examples,” he said.
Mitchell called himself a natural leader and said, “There has been a blueprint set out with those four guys that just left. I kind of followed the blueprint and stepped into the role of I have to be the leader in the room now, being the older guy. It’s just natural for me.”
The final verdict will come from the results they produce on the field. They say they’re ready to be productive.
Mitchell described the way he will play this way: “I’m a very aggressive linebacker. I’m a contact seeker. I love contact. I look forward to thumping some guys.”
He has dropped 10 pounds down to 245 this season by adopting a vegetarian diet. He says he was impressed with the results when quarterback Justin Fields adopted that regimen last season.
“I feel faster, I feel quicker. I have a lot more energy than I’ve had previously,” he said.
Unfortunately, Gant will be among the Buckeyes who will miss all of OSU’s ongoing spring practice, making this the second year in a row he has not had the benefit of spring practice.
“I have a foot issue at the moment. I am not particpating in spring ball. I’ll be back by the summer with a full recovery,” he said.
It’s possible OSU could add a transfer linebacker but that is just speculation at this point. Reid Carrico, a 4-star recruit from Ironton, is the only linebacker in the incoming recruiting class.
Linebackers coach Al Washington, as most coaches would do, says the starting linebacker jobs are still wide open.
“I’ve got a room full of guys who are eager to prove themselves,” he said.
Ohio State will need to see that proof if it is going to win a fifth consecutive Big Ten championship.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau