COLUMBUS, Ohio - Exactly three weeks out from its season opener on Aug. 31 at Indiana, the Ohio State Buckeyes completed their 12th practice of fall camp and third this week at the Coffey Road fields on Thursday.
Another dry and seasonably warm morning greeted the Scarlet and Gray, who were put through the paces in an approximately two-hour practice. Afterwards, first-year coach Billy Davis, fourth-year junior Dante Booker and true junior Jerome Baker met the media on the Woody Hayes Athletic Center indoor field.
Davis welcomes back veterans Chris Worley, Booker and Baker, who have started a combined 27 games in their careers. Worley is handing the task of replacing two-time All-American Raekwon McMillan in the middle. The Cleveland native registered 70 tackles, 4.5 TFL and one interception last fall while playing on the outside.
Some notes on the linebackers:
Baker, who became a starter in the second week of the season last year and never came off the field, was outstanding and is primed for an even bigger year in 2017. He played his best in the most critical moments, returning an interception 68 yards for a touchdown vs. Oklahoma and making 15 tackles to go along with a momentum-swinging interception against Michigan. Baker was second on the team with 83 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten choice by the coaches and media.
Booker has played in 23 career games but an injury in the first contest of the season cost him the 2016 campaign. In the spring, he ran with the first team.
In Monday's media availability, head coach Urban Meyer praised the play of sophomore Malik Harrison, who saw action in 11 games last year and had 13 tackles. He's joined in the mix by talented true freshman Baron Browning and Pete Werner along with redshirt sophomore Justin Hilliard, whose return from injury was noticeable in the spring, sophomore Keandre Jones and redshirt freshman Tuf Borland. The fifth returning letterwinner from 2016 is Zach Turnure.
Davis spent 24 seasons in the NFL - including eight as a linebackers coach - and inherits a unit that has produced an NFL Draft pick in three of the last four seasons (Ryan Shazier in 2014, Darron Lee in 2016, McMillan in 2017). Davis' resume includes defensive coordinator positions with the Arizona Cardinals (2009-10), San Francisco 49ers (2005-06) and Philadelphia Eagles (2013-15).
Coach Davis on Chris Worley's move to inside linebacker: "Our offense is really challenging us with a lot of great concepts. So you combine learning a new position in the defense with the offense that we're really excited about and he [Chris] is growing faster. He's doing a nice job transitioning."
On the development of Jerome Baker: "Jerome's football IQ is high to begin with and I think it's growing. When you take a fast player that's twitched up like he is, he thinks clearly, and knows what he knows, now you actually increase his speed. So Jerome is getting faster and faster the more understanding of the game he has."
On what he's brought to the linebacker as a coach: "I think everybody brings their own experiences and knowledge. What I'm trying to do is do the best job of getting Greg Schiano's vision of how linebackers play in his defense to be exactly what it is. Having been a defensive coordinator that's what I want from every position."
On the play of Dante Booker: "I think Dante is taking strides every day. We're very excited about him. He's got the explosiveness, the twitch, the speed, the power, all that stuff. But you have to get it done on the field. That's the challenge now. There's potential and there's getting it done. I love the way Dante is going right now."
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