Ohio State Defense

Ohio State Football Notebook: ‘We’re gonna be unstoppable’

Lofty Aspirations

No defensive tackle worth his salt has ever lacked for confidence. It is precisely the kind of demeanor that is required when you’re staring in the face of 1,500 pounds of humanity from snap to snap and you have to keep moving forward.

Ohio State senior defensive tackle Tyleik Williams is no different, but it’s not just an individual confidence — it’s also a confidence in what this year’s Buckeye defense could be.

“I don’t want to hype our heads too much, but I kind of look at it like a legendary defense,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got playmakers everywhere.”

The Buckeyes lose three full-time starters from last year’s defense but return 10 players with significant starting experience, and have also added Second-Team All-American Caleb Downs from Alabama. One of those returning starters is Sonny Styles, who moves from safety to Will linebacker to compete for one of those vacated starting positions.

The move of Styles and the addition of Downs has Tyleik Williams even more confident than normal.

“Moving Sonny down, I think that’s a great move for him,” he said. “He’s a big, athletic dude. He can play in the box. He can play safety. I think that just shows how versatile he is. And then Caleb, you’ve seen Caleb, how he plays. He’s an animal. He’s only a sophomore. I feel like the guys we brought back, we’re all dominant. So I feel like as a collective unit, we’re gonna be unstoppable.”

The Man In The Middle

One of those new old starters on defense is middle linebacker Cody Simon, who started five games last year for the Buckeyes and 10 games back in 2021 as a sophomore.

Simon has spent time at both middle linebacker and Will linebacker. He was the starter in the middle for much of the 2021 season, but did so while dealing with a bad shoulder.

Last year, he was the third linebacker for the Buckeyes, but was able to step in wherever and whenever and run the defense. Now with two-year starter Tommy Eichenberg off to the NFL, Simon steps back in as the Buckeyes’ middle linebacker. It’s a position that he is familiar with, which means he knows the importance of what he’s being asked to do.

“It’s definitely been a long time coming, but I feel honored. There’s a lot of respect and effort that goes into being a linebacker at Ohio State,” he said. “It’s a great honor and I want to honor the guys who came before me, but I also want to play my own way and be a great defender here and lead the defense.”

Simon isn’t expecting too many changes with this year’s defense, but the overall experience and versatility will allow for some wrinkles put in by defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. It’s still early, so Simon can’t tell you about them just yet. Nor would he even if he could.

“I think Coach Knowles does a really good job of keeping things simple when they need to be simple, and then molding it into more complex things,” Simon said. “So we’re trying to show different things, and we’ll get more into that as the spring and the season goes on, but I think that really the sky’s the limit with how we can change things around. I don’t want to give too much, but different packages and stuff. And I’m just excited for what the future might hold.”

This Stuff Takes Time

While Sonny Styles has 12 games of starting experience under his belt, he is moving to a new position. Playing Will linebacker will be a new experience, and he’ll be competing at that spot with junior CJ Hicks.

Hicks came to Ohio State as a ballyhooed five-star recruit, just like Styles, but his impact has yet to be felt defensively. He has spent his first two years as a backup to departed starter Steele Chambers, so this is his first real opportunity to win a starting job.

The timing of the opportunity and the overall growth as a player has Hicks more prepared than ever to finally contribute on a regular basis.

What has helped make that happen?

“I would say that the biggest thing is the mental side,” Cody Simon said of his teammate. “He doesn’t lack anything physically. So I think him getting better in the film room and studying and doing all that little stuff, the stuff that no one really sees. I think that’s where he’s gotten a lot better. And it’ll pay off down the road for him 100%.”

It is not unusual for a linebacker to take a little bit of time to be ready — or any position for that matter. This stuff isn’t as easy as some players make it look, especially at linebacker.

“I think the biggest part about linebacker is diagnosing everything on the field,” Simon said. “It’s never one thing. It’s never being locked into one job. You’re kind of responsible for everything. It’s very hard. Even Tommy [Eichenberg] can tell you. Even Tuf [Borland] back in the day, but that stuff takes time, and everyone’s different. So I think now he’s starting to get it more and more, and I’m just happy for him because it takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of film, a lot of preparation to be able to dissect offenses and get into that mode.”

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