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With Urban Meyer on paid leave, Mickey Marotti still has the keys to Ohio State’s football program

The annual “passing of the keys” from Marotti to Meyer was originally scheduled to take place at the team dinner before fall camp, a day after Meyer was placed on paid leave.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“Coach Mick is basically the head coach when Coach Meyer is on vacation or on the road recruiting. He works with everyone. He has a united front with coach Meyer as well, so there is a sense of continuity.”

Former Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry on strength coach Mickey Marotti via Bill Landis, Northeast Ohio Media Group

After strength coach Mickey Marotti spends May, June, and July getting players ready for fall camp, Marotti “hands the keys” to Urban Meyer at a team dinner before camp, signifying the start of practices and games. With Urban Meyer’s paid leave starting a day before that tradition was supposed to take place, Marotti is still the engine that is driving Ohio State while Meyer is absent.

Technically offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day is serving as interim head coach while Meyer is on leave; Marotti is the one that is in charge. Day may be the face of the program while Ohio State gathers information and decides what to do with Meyer in the wake of former wide receiver coach Zach Smith’s domestic violence scandal, but Marotti is who has all the trust of Meyer and the players.

Meyer and Marotti have known each other since the mid-80s, and Marotti has been a part of Meyer’s coaching staff since 2005, which is why Marotti has so much of Meyer’s trust. This isn’t meant to take anything away from Day, but with how long Marotti has worked with Meyer, he knows exactly what Meyer expects from his players and coaches.

Even though there is nothing normal about the situation that Ohio State is going through right now, having Marotti on staff is at least providing the Buckeyes with a bit of normalcy when it comes to the beginning of fall camp. Marotti has been a part of enough of Meyer’s fall camps that he can run them as close to as how Meyer would. If Meyer does return to the team, the transition when Marotti hands him back the keys will be seamless.

“Nearly one full week into fall camp, numerous position battles continue to play out and with that, a lot of eyes are on the linebackers where Greg Schiano and Billy Davis look to replace two starters from last season while also finding a third to potentially fill in for Tuf Borland as he rehabilitates an Achilles injury suffered in spring drills.”

Chris Lauderback, Eleven Warriors

As if trying to replace departed starters on the defensive line and secondary weren’t enough, Ohio State will have to find at least two new starters at linebacker ahead of the upcoming, and possibly a third if Tuf Borland’s rehabilitation from an Achilles injury doesn’t go as planned. For many teams this might seem like a daunting task, but it should be made easier for the Buckeyes with the talent they have amassed on their roster.

The biggest task for the Ohio State linebacking corps is to find replacements for Jerome Baker and Chris Worley at outside linebacker. Malik Harrison looks like the most obvious replacement, especially after Harrison not only started against Michigan State, but he was also a part of Ohio State’s nickel package. The junior linebacker was on the field for nearly 500 plays last year, so a transition to a starting role shouldn’t take very long.

Keandre Jones seems like the favorite to secure the other outside starting linebacker position, but Pete Werner is stating his case to be considered for the starting role. Jones does have the edge in experience, so he’ll likely earn the spot, but Werner will likely see some time in the rotation.

Another option for Ohio State at outside linebacker is redshirt senior Dante Booker, who has seen high expectations upon his arrival in Columbus derailed by injuries throughout his career. If Booker is able to stay healthy, he’ll give the Buckeyes some much needed depth at linebacker.

It is possible that Borland suits up against Oregon State, but the smart thing for Ohio State to do is ease Borland back into the role following his offseason Achilles injury. In the time being, Baron Browning seems like the obvious choice to fill in for Borland. Once Borland is healthy, this could give Browning an opportunity to slide over to outside linebacker and expand Ohio State’s flexibility at the position.

Even though Ohio State’s linebackers don’t have much experience, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of talent at the position. If the Buckeye linebackers don’t find their footing early, it could spell trouble, especially with games with TCU and Penn State early in the season. But if the new starters adjust to their roles early on, it could be another dominant season for the Ohio State defense.

Another linebacker who is stating his place for playing time this season is freshman Teradja Mitchell, who had his black stripe removed today. Mitchell is now the third freshman to see his black stripe removed this year. Defensive tackle Tommy Togiai had his black stripe removed back in April, while fellow linebacker Dallas Gant had has black stripe removed on Wednesday.

Mitchell is the first Ohio State freshman that didn’t enroll early this year to have his black stripe removed. The linebacker needed just six practices to have his black stripe removed, falling just short of the five practices that transfer cornerback Kendall Sheffield needed in 2017 to see his black stripe removed.

The short amount of time it took Mitchell to have his black stripe removed should come as no surprise, as he came to Ohio State as the second ranked inside linebacker in the country. Coming out of high school, Mitchell has been compared to former Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan. If those comparisons come to fruition then Ohio State will have found themselves another star at linebacker.