Jim Knowles Ohio State Buckeyes Football Depth Chart

Maximizing Production At Jack Starts Now For Jim Knowles

There is never one person to blame when something doesn’t live up to the hype. And those providing the hype are definitely not blameless.

Last year, when defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was hired by head coach Ryan Day, the outside examinations on Knowles’ defenses began.

Soon after, every outlet wrote about or talked about the “Jack” or “Leo” position, which was Knowles’ hybrid defensive end/linebacker that was created to cause havoc at the point of attack.

The position begins as a Jack, and as Knowles explained a year ago, once the player manning that position masters his role, he can be elevated to Leo, as “the king of the jungle.” The Leo has still more responsibilities and possibilities, but even getting the Jack to a desired level of production is a process that takes time.

The reason for the hype was justified at the time. After all, the two players sharing the position for Knowles at Oklahoma State in 2021 produced 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss.

The Buckeyes did not get to that desired level of production last year, and the expectations — buoyed by a healthy dose of media hype — fell short. A year ago, it was sophomore defensive end Jack Sawyer working at Jack while also trying to continue progressing as a defensive end. Sawyer led the Buckeyes with 4.5 sacks last year and tied for fifth with 6.5 tackles for loss.

After the season, Knowles went back and looked at what went right and what went wrong at Jack.

“It’s just a lot of work, a lot of study,” Knowles said. “And sometimes you can’t — when you’re in the middle of the forest, you don’t see the forest through the trees. So you go back to things, because by the time I left Oklahoma State, that package was — because I went back and looked at it — after the season you go back and look, ‘Okay, what was good?’ And that’s practically all we did. That’s practically all we did. But they were different players, different guys.

“And as we used some of it here, it just wasn’t popping. It wasn’t popping. I’m not saying it was ineffective, but it wasn’t popping. It wasn’t jumping off. Like when you watch the things at Oklahoma State you went, ‘Wow, that was great.’ So, gradually I just pulled back on it and pulled back on it because it doesn’t matter what I know, it matters what works and what the players can do.”

Knowles didn’t even use the Jack in the spring, though that was mostly because Sawyer is back at defensive end full time, and Knowles’ top pick to replace him — fourth-year junior defensive end Mitchell Melton — was out this spring recovering from a torn ACL last spring.

Both Knowles and defensive line coach Larry Johnson have spoken very highly of Melton despite him having only played in one game in his Buckeye career. Melton will not be alone, however, as sophomore linebacker CJ Hicks will also be given a look at Jack during fall camp.

Knowles feels good about reincorporating the position into the defense, and it’s something that will start long before fall camp ever kicks off.

“Yeah, I do. And maybe not even with the whole defense but I’ll be spending time with those two guys in particular,” Knowles said. “Just one-on-one time talking about the things that I want to accomplish.”

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Ohio State coaches over the years have talked about theory verses testimony, and for Knowles, the Jack is testimony. There is tangible proof that it has worked everywhere he has been, so the belief is that it will work and be effective at Ohio State as well. It’s a position that asks a lot from a player, but it can give a lot as well.

Fortunately, there is plenty that Knowles, Melton, and Hicks can do between now and the start of camp in order to live up to the hype that is sure to come.

“A lot. Tons. Because that’s the position when fully developed where that guy knows everything about the defense and everything about the calls. So a lot of that is one-on-one time with me and that player, or those two players,” Knowles explained. “Even if there are other guys that aren’t 100-percent comfortable, that guy has a full command of it and he’s kind of running around making the calls.”

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