CJ Hicks Cody Simon Gabe Powers

Spring Preview: Buckeyes Must Replace Pair Of Three-Year Starting Linebackers


Starters Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers are gone, but former starting middle linebacker Cody Simon returns for a fifth season. Former five-star prospect CJ Hicks is heading into his third year, as is former blue-chipper Gabe Powers. Both players are still looking for their first consistent playing time as Buckeyes. This is overall a pretty unproven group, but defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and linebackers coach James Laurinaitis are only looking for two full-time starters, and one of those spots is already filled by Simon. (In reality, they want more than just two guys, but spring ball is sometimes about taking small steps.)

Scholarship Roster

Cody Simon, rSr, 6-2 235
Very experienced and completely comfortable running the defense.
Kourt Williams, rSr, 6-1 228
Former captain who has dealt with injuries for most of his career.
CJ Hicks, Jr, 6-3 230
Former 5-star prospect has 23 tackles in his first two years.
Gabe Powers, rSoph, 6-4 235
Special teams regular but has seen time on defense in just three games.
Arvell Reese, Soph, 6-3 235
Played special teams as a freshman, still awaiting first defensive reps.
Nigel Glover, rFr, 6-3 210
Transferred in late last summer after leaving Northwestern and redshirted.
Payton Pierce, Fr, 6-1 220
Texas tackling machine seems set for the middle.
Garrett Stover, Fr, 6-0 205
Speed and quickness were his hallmark in high school.

For Starters

There are no returning starters but there are players returning with starting experience. When Cody Simon decided to return for his fifth year, he essentially locked up the spot in the middle of the Ohio State defense. Jim Knowles had glowing things to say about him last year and has compared him favorably to Tommy Eichenberg. The only other player on the roster with experience starting at linebacker is Kourt Williams, who got a start in the Rose Bowl way back at the end of the 2021 season.

New Additions

True freshmen Payton Pierce and Garrett Stover are both already enrolled, so they’ll be in the mix immediately this spring. Both need to get bigger and stronger, but their coverage skills will be put to the test quickly in practice. Pierce posted 181 tackles and 40 tackles for loss last year as a senior at Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas. As a junior, Stover was All-State in Ohio after tallying 92 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and seven pass breakups despite missing three games with an injury. There is also the possibility of safety Sonny Styles making the move to linebacker.

Spring Depth Chart

Mike Linebacker

30Cody Simon
36Gabe Powers
20Arvell Reese
NAPayton Pierce

Will Linebacker

11CJ Hicks OR
6Sonny Styles
2Kourt Williams
37Nigel Glover
NAGarrett Stover

What’s The Latest

There is a new linebackers coach in charge. Sort of. James Laurinaitis was elevated from last year’s job as graduate assistant coaching the linebackers to the full-time, full-blown linebackers coach. His position-coaching duties don’t change, but he does now have a louder voice among the defensive staff. He is also now the head coach of his unit, which puts him in charge of the recruiting targets as well. But as it relates to what happens this spring, not much will change from last year’s situation.


Cody Simon should slide in seamlessly for Tommy Eichenberg at middle linebacker. Simon started four games last year — three in the middle and one at Sam. He also started 10 games in 2021 — with nine of those in the middle and one of them at Will. He was part of a three-man rotation last year and played well at both Will and Mike when called upon. Simon has experience playing all three linebacker positions, but will be the middle linebacker for the Buckeyes this year. The only question this spring is how much work will James Laurinaitis give him.

One Question Needing An Answer

What is happening with Sonny Styles? Ryan Day, James Laurinaitis, and Matt Guerrieri have all talked about the possibility of Styles moving from his nickel/Sam/”Strike” position that he played last year, to the Will linebacker spot this year. Day said that there have been conversations with Styles about the move. Styles knows that his future is likely at linebacker, but will that future be now? Is this something that will take place this spring? And if so, how quickly?

Breakout Candidate

If it’s going to happen for CJ Hicks, it needs to start happening this spring. James Laurinaitis wants Hicks to “cut it loose.” Jim Knowles has talked about Hicks as a candidate at the Jack position, but the Jack position may not be utilized this spring after being shelved last season. But now this is the start of Hicks’ third year in this defense, so the familiarity is there. The production needs to follow. He has everything athletically you could want in a linebacker. Former starter Steele Chambers certainly has high expectations.


Defensive Tackle: Buckeyes Surround Returning Starters With Youth

Offensive Line: Buckeyes Much Deeper Than They Were A Year Ago

Defensive Ends: Ohio State Defensive Ends Just Getting Started

Tight Ends: Buckeye Tight Ends Have Big Shoes To Fill

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