On Tuesday, Patrick Murphy shared this feature on new Ohio State linebackers coach Bill Davis and his lengthy coaching background that led him to Columbus.
Check out some of Davis’ thoughts in the video above.
Below, we share some of Davis’ thoughts on the OSU linebacking corps after the third spring practice session.
Davis, a 16-year NFL coaching veteran, was at OSU as a volunteer coach last season. He was a ready-made replacement when longtime assistant Luke Fickell took the head coaching job at Cincinnati in January.
He inherits a linebacker group with two starters and another player who should have been a starter in 2016. And that’s after middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan opted to leave a year early for the NFL.
The returning starters are senior Chris Worley and junior Jerome Baker. Junior Dante Booker would have been a starter last season but he was lost to a knee injury after the first two games. Baker subbed in for him at the Will outside linebacker spot.
Worley is moving to middle linebacker this spring to replace McMillan, who led OSU with 102 tackles last year. Worley was fourth on the team with 70 tackles last season. Davis discussed why he thinks Worley, listed at 6-2, 230 pounds, will do well in the middle.
“With all the spread offenses you face, and when you think of Chris Worley and some say his weight may not be big enough to go over there,” Davis said. “You cover probably nine or 10 spread teams? So he’s got all the size to play in there at Mike, especially at the college game. And winning contact is about technique as about anything else. So he’s a great leader in there, he’s very vocal, everybody follows him, he knows what he’s doing. So he’s a great quarterback for us.
“We decided on that collectively as a staff. We just looked at everybody we had. And one of the things we were looking at, spring ball is for seeing who fits where. So we’ll move them around and see where they fit. I’m still asking Chris to know the Sam and other guys to know the Mike and we’re just moving them around. But right now Chris is, after three days, looks like a pretty good fit for him.’
Davis senses that Worley, as a senior, has that leadership quotient covered.
“He has to understand everybody’s job, he has to line them up -- one of the things about a Mike ‘backer is you not only have to line up others, you have to be able to do your own job after and not everybody can do that,” Davis said. “Not everybody can get everybody else lined up and still hold their own. A lot of them can just take care of themselves. Chris is outstanding and getting everybody and himself lined up.”
Davis was asked whether it is difficult to move from an outside spot to the middle.
“It is a little bit,” Davis said. “The visual of (pulling linemen) can happen from either side is about the only difference and it doesn’t take long to get that figured out.”
The 6-1, 225-pound Baker moved in at the Will spot after Baker’s injury and did a bang-up job. He ended up second on the team in tackles (83) and filled the stat sheet with 9-1/2 tackles-for-loss, 3-1/2 sacks and two interceptions. He returned one of those picks for a critical touchdown in the win at Oklahoma.
“Jerome’s a very talented young man and I think he’s got a big upside,” Davis said. “But again, he’s got a lot of work in front of him too. The potential’s there, but potential is a very dangerous word. It’s got to be backed up by work and he’s working hard right now. So we’re excited about him.”
It’s hoped that the 6-3, 240-pound Booker will stay healthy. He missed the balance of the year after suffering a knee injury.
“I’m excited about Dante,” Davis said. “Dante’s a special athlete and we’ve got him out in space. He’s got a lot of speed and quickness and ability to change direction. So we’ve got him out where Chris was where that’s really a space player for us. We’re excited about seeing how Book grows out there.
“I know he’s got a great hunger. They all do. This is a hungry group of guys that want to go prove themselves and I’m excited about seeing Book get his opportunity.”
Behind those three, the other linebackers on the field this spring include sophomores Justin Hilliard, Nick Conner, Keandre Jones and Malik Harrison; redshirt freshman Tuf Borland; and true freshman Baron Browning. Pete Werner will join the group in the summer.
Hilliard was a key prospect in the 2015 recruiting class. But injuries have kept him on the sideline. He missed last year after suffering a biceps injury.
“He’s doing great,” Davis said of Hilliard. “I had D’Qwell Jackson on the Cleveland Browns and he had popped both biceps also and I shared that with Justin. D’Qwell’s gone on to have a great Pro Bowl career in the NFL. So there’s no issue with the biceps at all. Sometimes you’re snakebit like D’Qwell Jackson was and Justin’s having a good start to spring ball right now.
“I think (that discussion) probably relieved him because one of the things in my career, if you know of somebody that’s overcome what you’re going through, and has been successful, I think it really helps. So for Justin Hilliard to know that there’s a guy out there, D’Qwell Jackson, who has torn both biceps two different years in a row and then went on to be in the Pro Bowl, that relieves him of a little bit of anxiety and he can go play football.”
The 6-1, 230-pound Hilliard appears to be backing up Worley in the middle.
“He’s doing well,” Davis said. “It’s only three days in, one day in the pads, and really linebackers show themselves with pads on. So now that they pads are on, we’ll really see who’s going to be where.”
Harrison, listed at 6-3 and 235 pounds, played in 11 games last year as a freshman and tallied 13 tackles. He is lined up behind Booker at the Sam linebacker spot.
“Malik’s a tall, good looking athlete,” Davis said. “I think he’s got a huge upside also. We also have him on Sam in space backing up Book. So Malik, again, he’s got a lot of work in front of him, but the raw, tall, long, physical, willing, intelligent athlete is there.”
From College To The NFL
Davis was asked if his projected OSU starters project as NFL players.
“There’s a lot of meat left on the bone before I can say that,” Davis said. “But I will say there’s a very athletic group. They’ve got great size and length and athleticism. So all the pieces are there. Now we just have to work our way into where we can say this is an NFL group.”
Under Fickell, OSU built a great linebacker pedigree. Between 2004-16, he had 13 linebackers drafted into the NFL. That list includes Robert Reynolds (2004 draft), A.J. Hawk (2006), Bobby Carpenter (2006), Anthony Schlegel (2006), Larry Grant (2008), James Laurinaitis (2009), Marcus Freeman (2009), Austin Spitler (2010), Brian Rolle (2011), Ross Homan (2011), Ryan Shazier (2014), Darron Lee (2016) and Joshua Perry (2016). McMillan will be the 14th player on that list with this year’s draft.
Davis talked about walking into a meeting room ringed with NFL uniforms worn by former OSU linebackers.
“Coach Fickell did an outstanding job,” Davis said. “The work speaks for itself. How many NFL players has Coach Fickell and Ohio State Buckeyes under his coaching got into the NFL? I think that’s real. There’s no team that has more NFL linebackers than Ohio State drafted out. Now we’ve got Raekwon McMillan going in this year.
“It’s a tradition that we’re very proud of, but right now the group that’s here cannot focus on any of that. They have to focus on being the best Ohio State Buckeyes we can be and see what we can get done.”
Davis was asked how his approach may different from how Fickell coached the linebackers.
“I’ve got to be me,” he said. “I’ve got a long coaching background and I’m going to just be me. I’m going to give these guys what I have, my knowledge I’m going to share with them. I’m going to push them, drive them in my own way.
“Coach Fickell’s moved on to Cincinnati and he’s taken his skills there. There’s no difference in the two. He’s got his way, I’ve got mine. But at the end of the day, the ‘backers on the field have to play great football. That’s our jobs.”
With experience coaching for seven different NFL franchises – including two stints with the Cleveland Browns – Davis was asked how the infrastructure and culture at Ohio State is similar to an NFL franchise.
“The difference is the classes that the young men have to go to,” Davis said. “You obviously don’t have that in the NFL. So the structure of the work is a little bit different. But what separates the Ohio State guys is the total growing of the man. I really am in awe of how Coach Meyer and his staff and the system grows a human being, not just a football player.
“What we found in the NFL is when Ohio State guys come, their mental toughness, because they go through this system of the grind, of hard, they come in so mentally tough, it’s tough to trip up Ohio State guys. So that’s why you see the young guys succeeding in the NFL. Because the talent level is the same. We get talented guys from Alabama or Auburn or wherever else, but the guys from Ohio State succeed because of really the mental toughness program they go through.”
Davis was asked if he expects to change how he coaches college students instead of pros.
“They’re not children,” Davis said with a smile. “They’re young men. There’s not a whole lot of difference. The argument can be in the NFL (for being children).”
Davis discussed the challenge of fitting personnel to a defensive scheme.
“I’ve been in every kind of scheme there is in the NFL – the 3-4, 4-3, the Tampa-2, I’ve had everything,” Davis said. “So it’s about the scheme that’s here and what’s been in place and what has been recruited to. That’s the other piece in college. You recruit to a specific 4-3, cover-4, whatever you want to do. And I’ve been in many systems just like this.
“So Greg (Schiano) and how he wants it done is how we’re going to get it done. Coordinating a defense is about 11 guys playing the same way. Whatever way that is, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been in all kinds of schemes. But to get them to play the same way, 11 as one, is the key to defense.”
In terms of what college defenses must prepare for, Davis said, “The biggest difference is stopping the quarterback run. That conversation about the quarterback running doesn’t exist in the NFL. Then the field dimensions are different.
“Really, schematically, you’re talking about a quarterback run game in conversations that I’ve never had. Where in the NFL it’s all about the throwing and the passing game and a little bit of the run. That’s the biggest thing in coaching. But coaching football’s coaching football.”
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Click here for ordering info and comments on Undisputed Champions, our recap magazine of Ohio State’s 2014 national championship run.Photo Gallery: Ohio State's first full pads spring practice Start SlideShow
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