Ohio State will continue to play plenty of defensemen this season, but don’t expect the Buckeyes to rotate as much at linebacker or in the secondary.
During an appearance on the Big Ten Network Thursday, new Ohio State defense coordinator Jim Knowles said he believes the Buckeyes can switch eight to 10 defensemen this season, but that he doesn’t intend to switch anywhere near as many of the back seven substitute.
“I don’t want to play a lot of linebackers when it comes down to it because there’s a flow of the game that they have to get into and DBs,” Knowles said. “So for me, in that backend — linebacker, DB — you always want to have an extra one on every position you’re rotating on just to keep the guys fresh.”
The defenders likely to play at least a part in the rotation this season are Zach Harrison, Jack Sawyer, JT Tuimoloau, Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday on the defensive end, along with Taron Vincent, Jerron Cage, Tyleik Williams, and Ty Hamilton Mike Hall on defensive tackle.
Linebackers have Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers in starting positions, while starting secondaries are expected to consist of Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown at cornerback, Tanner McCalister at Nickel Safety, Ronnie Hickman at Adjuster (free safety), and Josh Proctor at Bandit (heavy safety). Your top backups could be a combination of Teradja Mitchell, Chip Trayanum and Cody Simon at Linebacker, Jordan Hancock and JK Johnson at Cornerback, Cameron Martinez at Nickel Safety, Lathan Ransom at Adjuster and Kourt Williams at Bandit.
Knowles’ appearance on BTN came as part of the network’s annual camp tour, which stopped in Ohio state on Thursday. Ryan Day was also interviewed by BTN along with quarterback CJ Stroud and safety Ronnie Hickman.
A brief overview of what all four had to say:
On his team’s performance in the first seven training sessions of the camp: “I was impressed by the energy… I think it’s a good start for now.”
At the start of the season against Notre Dame: “We know the first game, we have to come out of the gates playing well.”
About Knowles: “The way he teaches, the way he understands the game, the level of intelligence is exceptional. He gets along really well with the players.”
Day knows it’s important for the Buckeyes to run the ball better in short-range situations this year. “The focus was on pad level and agile guys and being able to run the football but still have great balance.”
The Buckeyes will name champions after their scrimmage Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
What’s the biggest question he’ll have to answer before the Notre Dame game? “I don’t
think there is one; I just think overall, across the board, we just have to keep working on the fundamentals, keep working at the pad level and play well.”
When asked what he enjoys most about being at Ohio State so far, Knowles replied, “The resources…You get everything you need to win.”
Knowles welcomes Ohio State’s high expectations. “You are expected to win here and I think as a coach that drives you. That drives you.”
Knowles on how he would describe his defense to fans: “I don’t want fans to know what defense we’re on before the snap, so that would be a good way to describe it. We want to be simple but diverse.”
Knowles said he wants to make sure he’s using all the talent that’s available to him and not relying too much on schemes. “Everywhere else I’ve been they want to make sure the players have enough to win the ball game. Here you want to make sure they just know what to do and they can play fast.”
Eichenberg and Hickman are “the quarterbacks of the defense,” Knowles said. He said Taron Vincent, Zach Harrison and Jack Sawyer are among those taking the lead.
Stroud said he’s definitely more comfortable this offseason than last offseason knowing he’s the starter rather than fighting for the starting job.
He said he’s trying to include Kyle McCord and Devin Brown in his game prep.
Stroud said he “definitely could have done more with his legs” last year, and Ohio State’s new defense is forcing him to do that in practice. It’s also forced him to know when to look down instead of trying to make a big play.
Stroud said Mickey Marotti “returned to his old ways” and the entire team became stronger as a result. “We’ve had a really tough summer and winter, which we needed.”
Stroud on the talent around him at wide receiver: “I definitely feel like if I throw the ball to someone, they’re going to go up and get it.”
On running backs TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor: “They all balance out very well.”
Stroud says Williams has lost some weight and become more changeable: “He looks great.”
What does Ohio State’s offense have to do for the Buckeyes to stand a chance of winning a national championship? “I’m just saying execution.”
How do the Buckeyes ensure their defense does better than last year? “We have to get used to being comfortable in these uncomfortable positions.”
Hickman says the Buckeyes are quick to pick up on the new defensive scheme. “I like how fast the defense moves.”
“Coach Knowles made it very clear to us that this is a safety-focused defense.”
Hickman says the depth of the line of defense is what stands out in practice: “It’s crazy because the depth is what stands out to me. You look at the first guys to walk out there and it’s like, ‘These guys are crazy.’ Look at the second group walking out there, it’s like, ‘These guys are crazy.’
Hickman says it’ll give the Buckeyes extra confidence going into games knowing they’re going up against “the best” every day by practicing against CJ Stroud and the Ohio State offense.
What does he want people to say about Ohio State’s defense this year? “It’s a fast, hard, physical defense. That’s it.”