With spring football now in the rearview mirror for Ohio State, it’s time to look back at what happened with each position group and where things currently stand for the Buckeyes. Up next will be the linebackers.
Quick Position Overview
The Buckeyes normally just play two linebackers in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ system, which doesn’t allow for much playing time outside of the two starters. Last year’s starters — middle linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and Will linebacker Steele Chambers — return, as does top backup Cody Simon. Second-year guys CJ Hicks and Gabe Powers were two top linebackers in the 2022 recruiting class. Third-year sophomore Reid Carrico hasn’t played much yet but that hasn’t stopped him from working.
Expectations Going In
The expectation going into camp was that spring ball would be a good opportunity for everyone to get a sizable amount of work. There would be no need for Tommy Eichenberg to command a large number of reps, which would open opportunities for Cody Simon and Gabe Powers. To a lesser extent, the same could be said for Steele Chambers, who had CJ Hicks behind him. The coaches needed to find out what Hicks can do, so snaps would need to be made available.
Reality Coming Out
Tommy Eichenberg was held out of spring recovering from a medical procedure. He will be back well before fall camp. That meant Cody Simon was the No. 1 middle linebacker throughout spring, which allowed Gabe Powers to get the bulk of the snaps with the twos. Steele Chambers eventually also succumbed to a minor injury later in camp, which pushed CJ Hicks to the first team. Reid Carrico also bumped up to the twos at Will following the injury.
Gabe Powers had a quiet freshman season, playing in just two games last year (both on special teams), but he got more than a workout this spring. With Tommy Eichenberg out, Powers was with the twos at middle linebacker and showed up throughout camp. In the scrimmages seen by the media, he was productive against both the run and the pass. Powers has good size (6-4 230), and displayed the kind of range the position can use.
How do you get snaps for CJ Hicks? When Hicks was seen by the public this spring, he was making plays. Whether it was in the backfield, dropping into the flats and jumping routes, or simply defending the run, Hicks looked like he belonged. Head coach Ryan Day said after the spring game that Hicks is flashing more and more, but they still want more consistency out of him. So what happens if he gets that consistency this season? Jim Knowles has talked about him as an option at Jack, which seems like a perfect fit, but he’s also a guy who can defend larger patches of land. Playing time may come in pieces here and there, but for a guy that needs to become more consistent, can he find that consistency if he’s being asked to play multiple positions? Jack Sawyer struggled with that last year playing defensive end and Jack.
So Now What?
So now Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers continue to get healthy while everybody meets with linebackers coach James Laurinaitis and Jim Knowles. The young guys watch what they did this spring and see where they’ve grown. How quickly did they correct their mistakes? The reinforcement of the respective growth of each player will continue to propel them forward through the summer and into fall camp. Even though this isn’t a position room with a big number, the players that are there got better this spring.
This isn’t the deepest group, and now the top three guys — Tommy Eichenberg, Steele Chambers, and Cody Simon — have dealt with injuries in their careers. Eichenberg and Chambers haven’t missed any games, especially since Chambers setback happened this spring, but the injuries pull the curtain back on some depth issues. The Buckeyes have six scholarship linebackers right now, and will be adding a seventh in the summer with Arvell Reese, but only Eichenberg, Chambers, and Simon have actually played a snap on defense for the Buckeyes. The entire second team has only seen time on special teams.
Are We Sure?
Are we sure that Sonny Styles isn’t the No. 1 Sam linebacker? Now, typically, there is no Sam linebacker in this defense, but there will be times against running teams — or teams that play two tight ends frequently — where Styles would be the top option. We saw that in the playoffs against Georgia. Jim Knowles said they wanted to experiment with Styles this spring. One of the results of those experiments has likely further cemented in their minds that he is a solid option as a hybrid Sam/safety who can defend tight ends like a lockdown corner. That doesn’t mean he won’t also get his time at safety, it just means against certain teams, he could be a whole lot closer to the line of scrimmage than normal.
“Definitely, when he first got here, his athleticism and his aggressiveness were top level. He is a great athlete. Can make any play he wants to make. Definitely his biggest step has just been the mental side of the game. Especially this spring, from first practice to 15, he’s making so many more reads and he’s so much more communicative. Just such a more mature player just in these first 15 practices.” — Linebacker Cody Simon on the improvement CJ Hicks made during the spring.
|35 Tommy Eichenberg, rSr
|30 Cody Simon, Sr
|36 Gabe Powers, rFr
|22 Steele Chambers, rSr
|11 CJ Hicks, Soph
|28 Reid Carrico, rSoph
|30 Cody Simon, Sr OR
|6 Sonny Styles, Soph OR
|17 Mitchell Melton, rJr
|28 Reid Carrico, rSoph