COLUMBUS – Things didn’t always move as quickly as Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan would have liked during his freshman season at Ohio State last year.
But ever since the Buckeyes turned the page to the 2015 season he has been on the fast track.
McMillan arrived at OSU as a 5-star recruit and the most hyped player in its 2014 recruiting class. But for the first time in his life he found himself outside the starting lineup as senior Curtis Grant’s back-up at middle linebacker.
“I was kind of uncomfortable not being a starter. Starting for your whole career and coming to college and not being in the starting lineup made me work harder,” McMillan said after a recent practice.
McMillan appears to be the obvious leading candidate to take over Grant’s position at middle linebacker.
OSU has returning starters at its other two linebacker positions in Joshua Perry and Darron Lee. So, what was an area of concern going into last season could be an area of strength if McMillan comes close to living up to his reputation.
Lee says McMillan’s importance to the team is demonstrated by the fact that, even as a sophomore, he is being included in the leadership meetings Ohio State’s coaches have for players they have targeted as potential team leaders.
“We could tell from last year that Raekwon was itching to be in that leadership position. The thing was, we had to keep him patient,” Lee said.
“Curtis was doing a great job of teaching him how to be a leader and a mike (middle) linebacker. Now we’ve seen him take off with it. We’ve seen him ease into that leader position. He’s going to get the job done. I’m not worried.
“You need the mike linebacker to be the leader. The mike linebacker is the quarterback of the defense. The bottom line is when you have leadership meetings, if you’re the mike linebacker you’re in those meetings. That’s just how it is,” he said.
McMillan said, “Everybody around you is depending on you to make the right call. I have to be the coach on the field for us, like Curtis Grant was last year.
“It’s been a long process but a great process. Coming in, being highly recruited, all that is in the past. There are high expectations now that I’m in the starting lineup so I have to make sure everything is good.”
Lee is an example of how fast a talented player can climb up the depth chart if given the chance.
After playing quarterback and defensive back in high school, Lee was redshirted as a freshman.
He was not highly recruited coming out of New Albany High School and had to go to Ohio State’s high school camp several times before convincing the coaches to give him a scholarship.
Last year he made a stunning debut as a redshirt freshman. He was one of the key playmakers on Ohio State’s defense when he led Ohio State in tackles for losses (16.5), was second in sacks (7.5) and third in tackles (81). Lee also returned an interception and a fumble for a touchdown.
McMillan says he and the rest of the Buckeyes have not noticed any complacency so far in spring practice. Before that ever had a chance to happen, OSU’s coaches were making sure the players were immunized against that attitude.
“I feel like this year we’re working harder to start off the spring because we’ve been to the top. A team coming off a loss in the first round of the playoffs is probably not feeling too good. But with us coming off a national championship we have to exceed what we did last year,” he said.
NO PRESS BOX FOR WARINNER: New offensive coordinator Ed Warinner will remain on the sidelines instead of working from the press box where the man he replaced, Tom Herman, called plays.
Warinner was on the sidelines because he coached OSU’s offensive line. He retained those duties after being promoted when Herman left to become the University of Houston’s head coach.
“That was the way we (head coach Urban Meyer and Warinner) wanted to go and I don’t see it changing. It works,” Warinner said.
“Coach Meyer and I are real comfortable down there. It’s been a pretty good deal for three years down there with him and me on the sideline, and we talk and make our adjustments.”
Warinner said he is not going to try to make changes in OSU’s offense.
“I’m not going to steer this thing in a different direction, I’m going to steer it down the path that he (Meyer) wants, which has been a real successful path,” he said.
EXPANDED ROLE FOR SAMUEL?: Sophomore running back Curtis Samuel has lined up as a receiver at times this spring.
“He’s a guy we’re trying evaluate as a playmaker,” Warinner said. “We think he’s very talented. You’ve got to get your playmakers on the field. He has good hands and can run routes, so his role could be a lot of different places.”
Samuel rushed for 353 yards on 58 carries last season as a freshman but touched the ball only three times combined in the Sugar Bowl and national championship game.
OBLIGATORY QB QUESTION: Will it be Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones who takes the most snaps at quarterback for OSU?
Warinner says that question will be answered later.
“I’m not going to get too worked up about that now. We’re fortunate that we have quality quarterbacks. It’s a situation that will resolve itself down the road,” he said.