The Buckeyes must replace several key players, including quarterback C.J. Stroud, but one of the most experienced position groups is linebacker.
The unit returns both starters in Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg. Both players missed spring practice because of injuries but are fully healthy and ready for their second year as OSU’s established starters.
“It’s just having that good understanding of what he sees, what his instincts are and then just being able to play off that,” Chambers said about Eichenberg. “We compliment each other.”
This is also their second season under defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who said he’s seen a significant difference in the defense compared to this time last year.
“I do see it clicking. I see players in the right spot and understanding more of the why. You know, why I call a certain thing. I expect all of our guys to be able to answer that,” Knowles said. “Not just what or where or how but why. You know, what’s the purpose behind this call and they’re able to see that now.”
That’s especially true at linebacker, which is coached by Knowles along with former Buckeyes standout James Laurinaitis. The linebacker room is also bolstered by Cody Simon, who’s entering his senior year and is primed to make a difference as a replacement option for both Chambers and Eichenberg.
“I pride myself on being a big team player. Everyone in that linebacker room we’re all so close, so it’s never, ‘Man, I wish I was in there instead of him.’ I feel like anybody’s who on that field we can always produce,” Simon said. “It’s ultimately up to coach. Whatever he decides I’m going to go out there and perform my hardest and do whatever I can for the team.”
“We need to get Cody to that point where he can play and rotate with those two guys,” Knowles said.
Meanwhile, sophomore C.J. Hicks, the No. 2-ranked recruit in Ohio in 2021, is getting reps at the Jack position — a hybrid between defensive end and linebacker. Jack Sawyer played a majority of the snaps at that position last year but will focus on defensive end this season. Chambers said Hicks’ potential is “unlimited.”
“I think my plans have been pretty strong about C.J. the whole time. He had a great offseason, continues to improve. He’s going to play at Will, he’s going to play at Jack and we’re just going to always look for ways to get him in the game. You know, that’s on me to find those opportunities.”
Mitchell Melton, who suffered a torn knee ligament in OSU’s 2022 spring game, is slowly being worked back in and getting reps at the Jack position as well.
Other options at linebacker include safety turned linebacker Kourt Williams III, Ironton native Reid Carrico and Marysville native Gabe Powers.