The Buckeyes return their top three linebackers from last season. Middle linebacker Tommy Eichenberg earned Second-Team All-American accolades after a season where he led the team with 120 tackles. Will linebacker Steele Chambers finished second on the team with 77 tackles, and was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. Veteran Cody Simon has started at both spots in his time at Ohio State and is a reliable co-starter wherever he is needed. Second-year players CJ Hicks and Gabe Powers also return, as does redshirt sophomore Reid Carrico. None of those three played a snap on defense last season.
Tommy Eichenberg, rSr, 6-2 239
Out this spring with an injury.
Steele Chambers, rJr, 6-1 232
Readying for an All-Big Ten season?
Cody Simon, Sr, 6-2 239
Started 10 games in 2021 while dealing with an injured shoulder.
Mitchell Melton, rJr, 6-3 245
Out for spring, but will play the hybrid LB/DE Jack position in the fall.
Reid Carrico, rSoph, 6-2 230
Has repped at various linebacker spots in practice his first two years.
CJ Hicks, Soph, 6-3 225
One of the best athletes on the team, still developing as a linebacker.
Gabe Powers, rFr, 6-4 228
Top linebacker prospect still waiting for his first defensive snaps.
Ohio State employs a 4-2-5 defense, which means they generally only have two linebackers (Mike, Will) on the field at a time. A third (Sam) can show up on short-yardage downs. Or, as they showed against Georgia in the College Football Playoffs, a big safety like Sonny Styles can be used as a quasi-Sam linebacker. It will be up to defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to decide how much they want to use their three-linebacker sets this spring. Last year, they did quite a bit with three-linebacker sets early in spring practice. This year, however, they are further along in their defensive implementation, so who knows how much we’ll see the Sam this spring. And if we do see it, will it be somebody like Reid Carrico or Styles?
The newest member of the Ohio State linebacker room is graduate assistant coach James Laurinaitis. Laurinaitis (2005-2008) was a three-time All-American middle linebacker at Ohio State. This is his second year as a college football coach, spending last year at Notre Dame working for former linebacker teammate Marcus Freeman. It didn’t take Laurinaitis long to earn a positive reputation as a coach and recruiter at Notre Dame. At Ohio State, he will be the de facto linebackers coach for Jim Knowles, who is technically the linebackers coach, but obviously has more on his plate than just a position.
Spring Depth Chart
|35||Tommy Eichenberg, rSr (Inj.)|
|30||Cody Simon, Sr|
|36||Gabe Powers, rFr|
|22||Steele Chambers, rJr|
|11||CJ Hicks, Soph OR|
|28||Reid Carrico, rSoph|
|30||Cody Simon, Sr|
|28||Reid Carrico, rSoph|
|33||Jack Sawyer, Jr|
|17||Mitchell Melton, rJr (Inj.)|
|20||Sonny Styles, Soph|
|2||Kourt Williams, rJr (Inj.)|
What’s the Latest?
For a defense that generally plays just two linebackers, there’s an awful lot of positions listed above. They are included with the linebackers here just for the heck of it. The Jack will also be listed with the defensive ends. And “the Sonny” isn’t even an actual position, per se, just a nod to the way Sonny Styles was used as a Sam linebacker against Georgia. The nature of Jim Knowles’ defense allows for some fluidity, so the above reflects some of the possibilities. While this remains a Mike and Will defense at its base, it is going to grow and evolve, and more names will be invited to the party. We may see some of that evolution this spring, but likely only at a fundamental level, which is what so much of spring is about.
Don’t let the names and depth chart positions distract from what is going to be a spring without starting middle linebacker Tommy Eichenberg. With Steele Chambers and Cody Simon also being veterans, the spring is going to allow for the young players to get enough work to build some momentum for fall camp. The Buckeyes need depth that they can rely on, so they need to start figuring out who those reliable parties are this spring. Expect Reid Carrico, Gabe Powers, and CJ Hicks to each have a busy and enlightening camp over the next six weeks.
One Question Needing An Answer
Can Reid Carrico make a move this spring at either Will or Mike? This is his third spring, so he’s seen it all before. This is also his second year in Jim Knowles’ defense, so this should be a familiar batch of practices for the redshirt sophomore.
CJ Hicks was a 5-star linebacker in the 2022 recruiting cycle and played in 12 games last year. None of those games, however, saw him get snaps on defense. Still, he earned a spot on special teams, which means it is now time to earn a spot on defense. Hicks is one of those prototypes that every coach wants at linebacker. He’s quick, fast, and growing by the day. He’s playing behind Steele Chambers, which will limit his snaps this season, but he should still get enough work this spring to get people talking.
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