Ohio State will continue to play a lot of defensive linemen this season, but don’t expect the Buckeyes to rotate as heavily at linebacker or in the secondary.
During an appearance on Big Ten Network on Thursday, new Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said he thinks the Buckeyes can rotate eight to 10 defensive linemen this season, but that he does not intend to substitute nearly as much in the back seven.
“I'm not looking to play many linebackers when it comes down to it, because there's a flow of the game that they need to get into, and DBs,” Knowles said. “So to me, in that back end – linebacker, DB – you always want to have one extra at every position that you're rotating in, just to keep guys fresh.”
The defensive linemen who appear likely to have at least some role in the rotation this season are Zach Harrison, Jack Sawyer, J.T. Tuimoloau, Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Friday at defensive end and Taron Vincent, Jerron Cage, Tyleik Williams, Ty Hamilton and Mike Hall at defensive tackle.
At linebacker, Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers are in position to start, while the starting secondary is expected to consist of Denzel Burke and Cameron Brown at cornerback, Tanner McCalister at nickel safety, Ronnie Hickman at adjuster (free safety) and Josh Proctor at bandit (strong safety). Their top backups could include some combination of Teradja Mitchell, Chip Trayanum and Cody Simon at linebacker, Jordan Hancock and JK Johnson at cornerback, Cameron Martinez at nickel safety, Lathan Ransom at adjuster and Kourt Williams at bandit.
Knowles’ appearance on BTN came as part of the network’s annual camp tour, which made its stop at Ohio State on Thursday. Ryan Day was also interviewed by BTN along with quarterback C.J. Stroud and safety Ronnie Hickman.
A quick rundown of what all four of them had to say:
- On how his team has performed through the first seven practices of camp: “I've been impressed with the energy ... I think right now, it's a good start.”
- On the season opener against Notre Dame: “We know the first game, we got to come out of the gates playing well.”
- On Knowles: “The way that he teaches, the way that he understands the game, intelligence level is off the charts. He really connects well with the players.”
- Day knows it is important for the Buckeyes to be able to run the ball better in short-yardage situations this year. “The emphasis has been on pad level and moving guys and being able to run the football but still having great balance.”
- The Buckeyes will name champions after their scrimmage at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
What’s the biggest question he needs answered between now and the Notre Dame game? “I don't
think there's one; I just think overall, across the board, we just need to continually work on fundamentals, continually work on pad level, playing well.”
- Asked what he’s enjoyed most about being at Ohio State so far, Knowles replied: “The resources ... you get whatever you need to win.”
- Knowles is embracing the high expectations at Ohio State. “Here, you’re expected to win, and I think as a coach, that drives you. That fuels you.”
- Knowles on how he would describe his defense to fans: “I don’t want the fans to know what defense we’re in before the snap, so that would be a good way to describe it. We want to be simple but multiple.”
- Knowles said he wants to make sure he’s utilizing all the talent he has at his disposal and not relying too much on scheme. “Everywhere else I've been, you want to make sure the players have enough to win the ballgame. Here, you want to make sure that they just know what to do and they can play fast.”
- Eichenberg and Hickman are “the quarterbacks of the defense,” Knowles said. He said Taron Vincent, Zach Harrison and Jack Sawyer are among those providing leadership up front.
- Stroud said he is definitely more comfortable this offseason than he was last offseason knowing that he is the starter rather than competing for the starting job.
- He said he tries to include Kyle McCord and Devin Brown in his game preparation.
- Stroud said he “definitely could have did more” with his legs last year and Ohio State’s new defense is forcing him to do that in practice. It’s also forced him to know when to check down rather than trying to make a big play.
- Mickey Marotti has gotten “back to his old ways” and the whole team has gotten stronger as a result, Stroud said. “We really had a tough summer and winter, which we needed.”
- Stroud on the talent around him at wide receiver: “I definitely feel like whenever I throw the ball to somebody, they'll go up and get it.”
- On running backs TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams and Evan Pryor: “They all balance each other out really well.”
- Stroud says Williams has lost some weight and has gotten shiftier: “He looks great.”
- What does Ohio State’s offense need to do for the Buckeyes to have a chance to win a national championship? “I'll just say execute.”
- How do the Buckeyes ensure their defense perform better than last year? “We got to get used to being comfortable in those uncomfortable positions.”
- Hickman says the Buckeyes are picking up the new defensive scheme quickly. “I like how fast the defense is moving.”
- “Coach Knowles has made it very clear to us it’s a safety-driven defense.”
- Hickman says the depth of the defensive line stands out in practice: “It's crazy, because the depth is kind of the thing that sticks out to me. You look at the first guys who go out there and it’s like, ‘Those guys are crazy.’ You look at the second group that goes out there, it’s like ‘Those guys are crazy.’
- Hickman says it will give the Buckeyes extra confidence going into games knowing they’ve been going up against “the best” every day by practicing against C.J. Stroud and Ohio State’s offense.
- What does he want people to say about Ohio State’s defense this year? “That’s a fast, tough, physical defense. That's it.”