COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington spoke with the media Tuesday ahead of the Buckeyes road game against Indiana.

Washington was asked about how his players handled the departure of K’Vaughan Pope and Dallas Gant, two linebackers who left mid-season after not getting much playing time.

“I’ve got nothing but love for those kids, spent so much time with them and I support them as they go forth and do what they feel they need to do,” Washington said. “We held it together by just staying focused on what the objective was and we were all supportive.”

Ohio State has taken a different approach to using its linebackers this season by having two true linebackers, one inside and one outside, while the third plays a bullet/rocket position — a hybrid of defensive back and linebacker. That position has been played largely by Ronnie Hickman, who leads the team in tackles and has solidified himself as one of the best defenders on the team as a sophomore.

“From my vantage point, he’s very intelligent. You know he has a great instinct on the field,” Washington said. “I think he’s emerged not only as one of the leaders on the defense but the team, so I think that piece of it for rocket separates him and is helping him produce the way he has.”

Another player who has stepped up for Washington and the Buckeyes has been former running back turned linebacker Steele Chambers. Chambers started taking reps with the linebackers in the spring but didn’t fully transition to the defense until fall camp.

“As the summer went, he kind of took to it and has really taken off, man, and every rep he’s out there, he’s getting better and he is becoming more of a leader,” Washington said. “He’s a guy, man, that in time, he’s going to be a very, very good player as you all can see.”

The linebacker unit is anchored by senior captain Teradja Mitchell, who waited three years to play significant snaps and brought stability during the time Gant and Pope left the team.

“He’s one of the major contributing factors to how we were able to stay focused. I mean, he has been an excellent leader,” Washington said. “I’m very appreciative and proud of Teradja and how he’s taken everything from my first year here [January 2019] to now, he’s taken everything and really tried to use it to his advantage.”

The most pleasant surprise for Washington has been the progression of middle linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Cody Simon, who had very little experience going into this year but have grown into their role and become a reliable part of the defense.

“Yeah I think early on in the year compared to now there has been progress and there has been more comfort in terms of being out there,” Washington said. “Moving forward they’re going to be counted on in a major way.”