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Why is Chris Worley in the Middle? 'He’s just a really, really smart football player'
By Tony Gerdeman
Chris Worley has his coaches' trust, which is why he is in the middle this spring.
Photo by Jim Davidson

Chris Worley's first camp as an Ohio State Buckeye was way back in 2013, and he was lined up way back in the secondary. He began his career as a safety, though would eventually move to linebacker later on.

As a redshirt freshman, he and Darron Lee battled over the Sam linebacker position day and night during the spring, with Lee eventually winning the job and keeping it for two seasons. Despite losing that position battle in 2014, it was Worley and Lee who both started in the 2014 season opener against Navy.

Worley would then assume a backup role for the next two seasons, never stopping his pursuit of Lee's job, which drove both players for the better. Worley finally got the keys to the walk-out linebacker position a year ago, and finished fourth on the team with 70 tackles, which were four more than Lee produced one season earlier.

Despite never being a full-time starter before last season, there was never any doubt that Worley would be able to step in for Lee. Not only was he a veteran, but he was also a veteran with a tremendous understanding of the defense as a whole. He could have played any of the linebacker positions a year ago due to his knowledge of the requirements.

Now, one year later, he is getting an opportunity to show these skills as the Buckeyes' new middle linebacker. Worley is replacing two-time Second-Team All-American Raekwon McMillan, which is no small task, but there is no one his coaches would rather put in this position.

"He’s just a really, really smart football player," defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said on Thursday. "He’s a guy that I think understands the game at a very high level. And when you’re a Mike linebacker – you know, we lost what I think is a man’s man in Raekwon McMillan, I mean just a really fine football player and a smart football player, and we needed to make sure that we could try to replace him with a guy that has that kind of presence about him. It’s just two days, but I really am impressed with his two days."

While there are no concerns about his ability to handle the mental aspects of the position, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, there are at least some concerns about whether he can handle the physicality of the position at the point of attack.

"Worley’s got the mentality, now we’ve just got to see if his body can hang in there at the Mike linebacker spot because he’s got it all," Urban Meyer said on Tuesday. "We’ve just go to make sure he can hang in there."

Worley is lighter than the middle linebackers the Buckeyes have had over the years. Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Grant, and Zach Boren were all around 240 pounds, but while Meyer may have some questions about Worley holding up, Schiano has no such worries.

"He can play exactly how Mick gets him ready to play," he said. "I’m not worried about that at all. Just eat right, lift, train, and he’ll be ready to play."

You can rack your brain trying to come up with the last Buckeye to begin his career as a safety and end it as the starting middle linebacker, which is another way to say that Chris Worley's path to the middle has been decidedly unique.

It's that long and winding path, however, that has given him such a grasp of the defense, and ultimately that's what has won him the job.

Now he just has to hold on to it.

Player profiles relevant to story:
35 - Worley, Chris
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