CJ Hicks Ohio State Buckeyes Linebacker

Spring Recap: Buckeyes With A Good Problem To Have At Linebacker?

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. We continue our series with the linebackers.

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Quick Position Overview

The Ohio State linebackers are not an overly deep group but such is life when you run a 4-2-5 defense and only “need” two starting linebackers. Fifth-year senior Cody Simon is back at middle linebacker after starting there in 2021 and eventually giving away to Tommy Eichenberg the past two seasons. The Will linebacker job will be contested between CJ Hicks and Sonny Styles, both of whom are former five-star prospects. The rest of the depth is pretty young at this point, but seemingly talented.

Expectations Going In

The expectations going into the spring were that it might be time for Sonny Styles to make the move to linebacker from safety. Expectations were also that Cody Simon would step in seamlessly — at least during the spring — at middle linebacker. CJ Hicks would be very involved and getting more practice time than he has gotten in his career. However many reps the coaches wanted to see from him would be exactly how many he’d get.

Reality Coming Out

The reality coming out is that Sonny Styles was in fact at linebacker working behind CJ Hicks at Will. Those two shared most of the duties at that spot. Cody Simon, of course, handled the middle linebacker spot. He showcased his veteran age and wisdom and was a leader for the room. Redshirt sophomore Gabe Powers got a good amount of work at middle linebacker behind Simon and established himself as somebody who could see the field this year as well. Sophomore Arvell Reese also had a productive camp.

Any Surprises?

Maybe the surprise here is Gabe Powers stepping up as a backup middle linebacker. Though it shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise because he is a third-year sophomore. He has been in the program for a while now, but the growth he has made from November to now has been significant. The coaches are very, very happy with where he is right now. He is a guy who could see actually snaps in the first half of games this year as the coaches look to build depth and play depth this season. In theory.

Gabe Powers
Gabe Powers

Unanswered Question

The unanswered question here may be how CJ Hicks and Sonny Styles coexist in this defense? They are both tremendous athletes who have the ability to do different things, but how do you get them both involved together? There will be some sets with three linebackers. But how often and how few and far between will those situations be? Those instances are dependent on down and distance, opponent, and system? So will this be a defense that can feature both of those guys at times, or is it a one-or-the-other type of proposition?

So Now What?

So now Jim Knowles and linebackers coach James Laurinaitis go back and see where those unanswered questions fit best. How do Sonny Styles and CJ Hicks excel in this defense? What do they do best? How best can Knowles build the defense around what those guys do? Were they productive enough this spring to make it a point to find more things for them to do? Because if they weren’t, then there’s no point. But it sure sounds like things went well. Regardless, they both have things that they do well, so Knowles will want to accentuate those things.

One Concern

The one real concern here is that you have two linebackers in CJ Hicks and Sonny Styles who have never really played this position in an abundant fashion. Jim Knowles has said that Hicks is better as more of an attacking presence. But what about when he is being attacked? Can he play linebacker and be a reactor and fit the right hole and handle blockers? He can’t just be a blitzing force. And with Sonny Styles, he’s played some Sam linebacker before but this is his first time being on the inside. He’s big enough for the job, obviously. But it’s still a new position for him. It’s still a work in progress. That work is expected to eventually be just fine, but it’s still a concern.

Are We Sure?

Are we sure there are going to be enough situations this season where the Buckeyes can put three linebackers on the field together? There’ll be some mixing and matching throughout for sure. The defensive line will be shifting and changing. The linebackers will be shifting. The coverages will change, as will down and distance. All of these moving parts will be in play, but will Jim Knowles be willing to pull somebody else off the field to put a third linebacker out there? It’s probably best to expect a bunch of different combinations for this defense, much of which will be dependent upon the linebackers being able to hold up their respect end of the bargain.


“CJ is moving around. You get into a three linebacker package — Sonny, Cody and CJ, you’re pretty good, right? But you can’t just have one guy. So if Sonny’s not there at the Sam, then CJ has got to know how to play it too so that you could bring Gabe in at Mike and Cody can play Will and you still have a great lineup. You always have to plan for, ‘Okay, we’ll start out this way. But who’s in next?’ So CJ has to know both positions too.” — Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles on CJ Hicks learning the Sam linebacker spot as well this spring.

Depth Chart


11 CJ Hicks, Jr OR
6 Sonny Styles, Jr
2 Kourt Williams, rSr
23 Garrett Stover, Fr OR
37 Nigel Glover, rFr


30 Cody Simon, rSr
36 Gabe Powers, rSoph
20 Arvell Reese, Soph
35 Payton Pierce, Fr


6 Sonny Styles, Jr OR
11 CJ Hicks, Jr

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