ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Everyone loves a good underdog story.
The East-West Shrine Game gives those small-school scrappers a chance, but it’s also a stage for college football’s elite. Chris Worley and Damon Webb fit that latter category as part of an Ohio State defense that doubles as an NFL breeding ground.
“At a place like Ohio State, it's one of the two or three universities where there is no ceiling that is too high,” Worley said. “No matter how great you are, there was a guy before you who was better than you. That just drives me and guys on my team to continue to try and fill those shoes. “
Worley, a linebacker, and Webb, a safety, are roommates this week, and both have been two of the more popular players with scouts on the East team, which wrapped up its third day of practice Wednesday at Shorecrest Preparatory School in advance of Saturday’s game at Tropicana Field (3 p.m., NFL Network).
Worley played in 49 career games for the Buckeyes, making 154 tackles, two sacks, six passes defensed and three interceptions. He came to Ohio State as a safety before making the transition to linebacker. After spending the first three years as an outside linebacker, he moved to the middle as a senior.
“Chris can play any position on the field -- especially all three linebackers,” Webb said. “He's a great pass rusher, he can blitz, he can cover. He's one of the toughest guys on the team, too.”
“He’s just a really, really smart football player; he’s a guy who I think understands the game at a very high level,” Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano told the school’s website about Worley. “You know, we lost what I think is a man’s man in Raekwon McMillan, just a really fine football player and a smart football player, and we needed to make sure we tried to replace him with a guy who has that kind of presence about him.”
The Buffalo Bills could use an infusion of athleticism to their linebacker group, and did well with Matt Milano last year, another player who previously played safety before switching positions. Bills coach Sean McDermott also puts a high value on players who can do multiple jobs, which Worley showed he’s capable of in 2017.
“I actually do safety drills, D-line drills and linebacker drills when I'm training,” Worley said Wednesday. “Just to stay fluid in the hips, efficient movement, all that helps at linebacker, because the game is changing, so a lot of it is coverage.”
Worley is currently projected as a seventh-round pick or priority free agent, which is exactly how Milano was viewed a year ago. The Bills showed those pre-draft rankings are anything but concrete.
“I just want to show these teams what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “I’m not trying to be someone I’m not.”
Webb, meanwhile, continued his strong week of practices Wednesday with an interception of Ohio State teammate J.T. Barrett. In 2017, the Buckeyes had three members of their secondary drafted – in the first round. In 2016, it was two members of the secondary chosen in the first two rounds. So Webb isn’t kidding when he says “We call it ‘BIA’ for a reason – ‘Best in America.’ We don't lose talent, we reload. That's how we look at it, so the expectations are very high.”
Webb was the Buckeyes’ lone returning starter in the secondary in 2017, and finished with 61 tackles, five interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
“I'm just out here playing my game, listening to the coaches, playing the techniques they’re teaching me and paying very good attention to detail,” he said. “I try to be a perfectionist when the coach is talking to me.”
Webb is projected as a sixth-round draft choice at the moment, but it’s possible his stock has gone up based on how he’s performed this week.
“Coming from Ohio State, I felt like they prepared us for this,” he said. “Some of the stuff they're teaching us out here, they taught us at Ohio State, so it's coming naturally to me. There's definitely an expectation to get to the next level.”
Story topics: Shrine game