Jim Knowles Says Cody Simon Can “Put Himself in A Position to Play Regularly” in 2023 With Big Spring At Linebacker

By Griffin Strom on March 19, 2023 at 8:35 am
Cody Simon

Cody Simon saw his snaps cut in half last season.

A regular starter in 2021, the Buckeye linebacker was squeezed out of Ohio State’s on-field alignment for much of his third season as a result of Jim Knowles’ notoriously tight rotations on the back end of the defense. Of course, plenty of that was due to the ascension of Tommy Eichenberg, who emerged as an All-American in the middle of the field in 2022.

Either way, it was a step back for Simon, who became the odd man out among Ohio State’s top three linebackers as he played no more than 24 snaps in the final 10 games of the season. In Ohio State’s Peach Bowl loss to Georgia, Simon saw the field on just one play.

Knowles wants that to change in 2023.

“I definitely want to rotate them more. I think Cody Simon, with Tommy out this spring, Cody's gonna have a big spring.”– Jim Knowles on rotating linebackers

The Ohio State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach appears to recognize the benefits of a wider rotation ahead of his second year in Columbus, and that means a potential uptick in opportunities for last season’s No. 3 LB – especially with Eichenberg out for the spring.

“I definitely want to rotate them more. I think Cody Simon, with Tommy out this spring, Cody's gonna have a big spring,” Knowles said after Ohio State’s first spring practice. “And he's gonna put himself in a position to play regularly. That's my vision so that we can have a really nice rotation there. Which, when you're playing 14, 15 games, is gonna help us at the end of the year. It really is. We need to get Cody to that point where he can play and rotate with those two guys. … But yeah, I'm definitely hopeful we can take some of the reps off of Tommy and Steele (Chambers) because it'll help us at the end of the season.”

But if Simon’s reduced role bothered him last season, he hasn’t admitted as much. The New Jersey native exuded a team-first attitude when asked repeatedly about his thoughts on his playing time following the Buckeyes’ second spring practice.

“I just try to be as selfless as possible. I try to play my role as best as I can, and wherever the coaches think that's best for me, I try to play to the best of my ability,” Simon said. “So for me, I don't really worry about where or what the scheme is, I just try to – whatever they put me, that's where I go and play my hardest and play my heart out.

“It's all a process. In high school there were times where I wasn't playing a lot either, but it's just trying to maximize the amount of reps you get. And I think that's the most important thing is if you don't get every rep in a game, how are you going to maximize those five, 10, 15, 20 reps you get and play the best you can?”

Simon had to clear some physical hurdles just to get on the field for his third season at Ohio State. The four-star recruit’s 2021 campaign ended at the conclusion of the regular season as Simon underwent shoulder surgery that kept him out of the Rose Bowl and part of the following offseason.

Simon didn’t blame his 2022 season on that injury, but said getting acclimated to Knowles’ new system while having to miss some practice time was a challenge.

“I don't think anything's really set back. It's just the way it kind of goes. If you have an injury, you gotta get it fixed,” Simon said. “It's gonna keep happening. It happened to me for like seven years. So I figured I had to get something fixed. And it's really more mental than anything, just having the strength to – when you can't practice, you got to watch that film as intently as they're watching. Because when you get back, it's time to get in there. I think physically I was fine last year, it's just mentally having that strength to go in and implement what they teach.”

Now, though, Simon says he’s physically at 100%, and having full health this early in the offseason could allow him to make the strides he might not have been able to last year. Simon knows he needs to make a push in the preseason, and that process began as soon as Ohio State resumed workouts after the 2022 season.

“This winter was really big for my leadership and just trying to have a bigger voice on the team and trying to be felt as a leader,” Simon said. “And I mean this is what spring's for, it's developing and really just learning about yourself. And so these next 13 practices we have, it's all gonna be about developing leadership, playing as hard as I can and leading your defense.”

Beyond honing his voice to become more of a leader on the Buckeye defense, Simon is also well-aware of the areas in which he needs to improve between the lines.

“Just bringing aggressiveness. I feel like as a linebacker, you can always be more aggressive,” Simon said. “Whether attacking the line of scrimmage or just attacking the quarterback. … We’re trying to be students of the game. And it's like, you learn so much more just by taking a step back and looking at the whole defense as a whole. When you're so close, you can't really see a lot of the little nuances of the defense. And so I think now, I'm starting to see – me, Tommy, Steele, we all talk about this stuff. 

“And it's like, 'Oh, if I just saw that thing, I can be more aggressive there, I know what's coming.' So just becoming older and more mature as a linebacker, you see more opportunities, you see more plays you can make.”

If Knowles’ comments are any indication, Simon will have his chance to show off an increased level of aggression with an elevated workload in 2023. But Simon won’t openly campaign for wider linebacker rotations at the expense of his teammates.

“I think definitely rotating keeps people fresh. But at the end of the day, it's whoever the coach wants out on the field,” Simon said. “And whoever's out there, they're gonna play to the best of their ability. I just have full trust in my coach and full trust in my teammates, whoever goes out there.”

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