by Aaron Hyder | Athletics Communications Assistant
A group that opposing quarterbacks fear in their pre-snap reads. Labeled as Ohio's finest. Meet Jerome Baker, Chris Worley and Dante Booker, the three players who will look to fill their gaps and wreak havoc on opposing offenses this fall.
A big emphasis on the defensive prowess for Ohio State in 2017 will be preventing plays of 25 yards or more, and the linebackers hold a big responsibility for the ground portion of those plays.
"In defense, that's the name of the game. If you can stop the big plays, you'll win a high percentage of games," linebackers coach Billy Davis said. "For linebackers, first you should be where you're supposed to be and do your job. If you have a gap to fill, you have to fill that gap. If you don't, and the offense finds it, that's when big plays of 25 or more happen."
Baker, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, returns as Ohio State's top tackler for the 2017 season. In 13 games played, Baker started 12 of them and racked up 83 tackles including 9.5 for loss. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker used 2016 as a learning experience while contributing to the team's cause in fine fashion.
Speaking on what he could improve on this fall, Baker mentioned that he has a better understanding of the defense.
"Once you know the defense it helps way more," Baker said. "That's what I wanted to focus on this offseason. Knowing what I have to do. It's going to be exciting to have my speed, and knowledge of the playbook inside and out."
Baker's progression throughout the offseason has been recognized by his position coach in a number of ways.
"Jerome's football IQ is high to begin with and I think it's growing," Davis said. "When you take a fast player that's twitched up like he is, he thinks clearly, and knows he knows, now you actually increase his speed. So Jerome is getting faster and faster the more understanding of the game he has."
Joining Baker at the opposite outside linebacking position will be Booker. After suffering a season-ending injury during the season opener in 2016, Booker is looking forward to returning to the field and making an impact this year.
"I feel like a vet, but I need to prove what I can do," Booker, a senior, said. "I expect to do my job. I think that's the most important. If I do my job, I'm confident my teammates are going to do their job, so we're going to make each other better."
The work Booker has put in this offseason has improved his game immensely. The swift-moving linebacker also knows how quick your season can come to a halt, and with that, his work ethic has been nothing but sensational.
"If anybody knows how quick it can be taken away through circumstances out of your control," Davis mentioned. "So every day he comes to work. He doesn't complain. He just works. Because he knows he got all the way to this point last year and it was taken away."
Rounding out the linebacking corps is Worley, who will be learning a new position for the second season in a row. The versatile senior is settling in nicely at the position and will be looking to fly around this year.
"Our offense is really challenging us with a lot of great concepts," Davis said. "So you combine learning a new position in the defense, with the offense we're really excited about, he's (Worley) growing faster. Chris is doing a nice job transitioning to the [middle]-backer position."
At the end of the day, the linebacking crew just wants to be a piece of a dominant defense and Davis is doing his best to help his group live up to those standards.
"What I'm trying to do is do the best job of getting [defensive coordinator] Greg Schiano's vision of how linebackers play in his defense to be exactly what it is," Davis noted. "Having been a defensive coordinator that's what I want from every position. This is my vision...can you get that group to play within my vision."
Kendall Sheffield: Cleats & Spikes