Speed at linebacker has been a hotly-discussed topic among Ohio State fans for a couple of years now. Ever since the departure of Luke Fickell back in 2016, the Buckeyes have struggled greatly in the middle of the field, and that came to a head in 2018, with Malik Harrison serving as the only starting linebacker that looked athletic enough to play division one football at times.
In response, Ryan Day fired Bill Davis and Greg Schiano, and brought in Al Washington, Greg Mattison, and Jeff Hafley. In case you aren’t aware, all three of those coaches value speed, and slow linebacker play really isn’t going to be an option.
That starts with recruiting, and today, Ohio State displayed just how much priorities have changed, landing a commitment from Kourt Williams. If there’s a singular face of the new Buckeye defense, it might be Williams. What does that mean?
On the field
If Brendon White is patient zero in the bullet position, Kourt Williams is the evolution. He actually spend most of his time playing safety for his high school, but not in the traditional sense. He’s a bit bigger than your typical safety at 6-foot-1, 216 pounds, but he’s obviously not your traditional linebacker, so his high school is already using him as a hybrid.
That’s terrific news for Ohio State. That means that the Buckeyes are getting someone who already fits the bullet position perfectly from an athletic standpoint, and someone who has already played something similar to the position. That’s pretty rare in recruiting, and it could create a situation where Kourt may be able to step into a starting job as soon as his sophomore season. Given that White is almost certainly gone after this year, and his replacement Jahsen Wint is probably gone after next year, Ohio State would love to slot Williams right in there in 2021.
I mention Williams’ athletic ability, but I’m not sure if just a mention does it justice. He’s a freak. He runs a high 4.5 40 time with relative ease, and he’s even quicker than he is fast. Pair that with really impressive strength and instincts, and it’s hard to find a more perfect bullet position fit athletically.
Williams isn’t just a great athlete with a high ceiling, however. He’s already a refined run stopper and pass rusher, thanks in large part to his tackling fundamentals. He wraps up extremely well, and he may be even better before the point of contact, taking consistently good angles and breaking down to avoid being beaten off a cut.
If there is a concern it’s with his general coverage skill, because I don’t think he’s going to be particularly effective in man or zone coverage, but based on what we’ve heard about the bullet position, that may not be a huge issue. As long as he can help provide pressure, set the edge on runs, and prevent Ohio State from giving up 200 yards to every slot receiver they meet, he’ll be able to thrive without elite coverage ability.
In the class
Williams is the 22nd member of Ohio State’s 2020 class, and the third linebacker, along with Cody Simon, who I see as more of an outside linebacker, and Melton, who could either play inside or move to an edge rusher role. Williams likely fills the bullet role, as mentioned, which means Ohio State has filled all three linebacker spots in this class.
Williams chose the Buckeyes over 22 other offers, including interest from just about every Pac-12 team, which is a testament to the recruiting ability of Jeff Hafley. Ryan Day hired him partially because of his recruiting acumen on the west coast, and to land a four-star California linebacker just days after landing a four-star California cornerback (Clark Phillips III) is pretty damn impressive. California kids are very difficult to get to Columbus, and Hafley has done it twice in his first class.
With this pledge, Ohio State inches closer back to that second spot currently inhabited by Alabama. The Buckeyes are now just two points away from the Crimson Tide, and with Jaylan Knighton and Bijan Robinson both on commitment watch, the Buckeyes seem set to reclaim that spot sooner than later. In fact, they may even hold onto the top spot for a few days, before Clemson inevitably lands another five-star quarterback, somehow.