When Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and running backs coach Tony Alford initially approached Steele Chambers this spring with the idea of moving him to linebacker, the third-year Buckeye was hesitant.
Chambers loves playing running back, and knew a move to linebacker would mean going back to square one and learning Ohio State’s defense after spending the past two years with Ohio State’s offense. So Chambers chose to stay at running back for spring practices, as Alford and Day said it was up to him whether he wanted to change positions.
Following the spring game, though, Chambers had another conversation with Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington, who wanted the Georgia native – who Washington had recruited as a linebacker when Chambers was in high school – to join his room. After that conversation, Chambers decided he would give it a try.
Now, one week into preseason camp, Chambers is invested in playing linebacker full-time after spending the summer cross-training at both running back and linebacker.
“I was doing both, I was doing running back and linebacker, and then once we got into fall camp, I decided to just really focus on linebacker, get all the plays down and stuff so I can be ready for the season,” Chambers said Thursday.
Although Chambers played on both sides of the ball in high school, the transition back to linebacker hasn’t been easy. After not playing the position for the past two years, Chambers says he’s faced a steep learning curve in camp, which he says has been “insanely frustrating” at times.
“I have a little experience from high school, but college defense is just a whole new ballgame,” Chambers said. “High school, I was just kind of bigger and faster than everyone, I was able to kind of just go off athleticism. Didn’t really need to know much technique even though my coaches taught it to me. Now I need to be sound in my technique because our running backs are big, strong, fast. So you got to have every tool in the toolbox to get the job done.
“But I’m chipping away at it right now. It’s been about a week of camp. I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job getting used to it.”
Chambers’ coaches and teammates have been impressed by what they’ve seen from him at his new position so far. Day described Chambers on Monday as a “natural” at linebacker. Washington says he thinks Chambers has been a “great addition” to his position group.
“I’ve been recruiting Steele for a long time,” Washington said. “Just a great kid. Works his tail off. Is learning. He’s a bright kid. He’s learning the playbook, and doing his thing. So yeah, he’s a really good player. He’s always been athletic, and I’m real excited about Steele.”
Several other Ohio State linebackers praised Chambers’ work ethic on Thursday. Cody Simon, who’s currently Chambers’ roommate at the team hotel for camp, said Chambers “always plays hard no matter what.” Teradja Mitchell said Chambers is “4 to 6, A to B, plus two every play.” Dallas Gant said Chambers has “done an excellent job” of getting himself ready to play his new position.
“He’s really taken on the role and learning it the best he can, the fastest he can, and he’s really adapted,” Gant said. “He’s put in the extra time, the extra work with Coach Wash, watching film, making sure he catches up on the things he’s missed.”
Although he believes he’s still a couple of weeks away from really knowing Ohio State’s defense well enough to be ready to play in a game at his new position, Chambers believes his experience playing on offense will help him as a linebacker in terms of anticipating what opponents will do.
“We’ve got a pretty complex (offense) here, so I feel like I’m able to translate, I can see different formations, different routes by the running back and stuff and I’m able to translate that from defense, so I’m able to react quicker,” Chambers said.
While Chambers would have liked to continue playing running back, he wasn’t in line for much playing time there, with Miyan Williams, Master Teague, TreVeyon Henderson and Marcus Crowley all on the depth chart in front of him. He doesn’t yet know what his role will be at linebacker this season, but Day said he believes Chambers can make an impact at linebacker by the end of the year.
“I hope that he can provide depth early in the season and then grow into a more consistent role as the season goes on,” Day said.
Had Chambers been dead set on playing running back, he could have stayed in Alford’s position group and tried to earn his way up the depth chart, or he could have entered the transfer portal and looked for more playing time elsewhere. Chambers said he didn’t really consider the latter option, though, because he loves Ohio State and “wanted to stick to it.”
Ultimately, Chambers wanted to give himself the best chance to get on the field as a Buckeye, and that’s why the 6-foot-1, 225-pound redshirt sophomore is playing linebacker now.
“It’s hard switching positions. Especially loving running back. But at the end of the day, I feel like I’m just doing what’s best for me,” Chambers said.
Chambers’ position, and the color of the jersey he wears in practice, has changed. He’s had to learn new techniques and a new playbook. What he says hasn’t changed with his position switch, however, is the approach he’s taking to the field.
“We got great guys at running back and linebacker, so no matter what, you gotta work your ass off,” Chambers said. “So that’s what I’m doing right now, and I’m just gonna try to find a way onto the field as fast as possible.”