Jim Knowles had plenty to say about how Ohio State’s defensive depth chart is shaking out during his second press conference of the spring.
In a nearly 18-minute long interview session with reporters after Ohio State’s sixth practice of the spring on Tuesday, Ohio State’s defensive coordinator offered insight on who’s currently in line to play where at safety, praised transfer defensive backs Davison Igbinosun and Ja’Had Carter and said he’s targeting Mitchell Melton and C.J. Hicks to play Jack with Jack Sawyer now a full-time defensive end, among much more.
You can watch Knowles’ entire interview session in the video above, and here’s a quick rundown of what Knowles had to say.
- Knowles said the Buckeyes are considering utilizing their cornerbacks at the nickel position this year. “We look at what that guy has to do, in terms of how it fits to our opponents and everything that that position has to do, and we think a corner can do it.” Knowles said there are depth issues at nickel right now, which necessitates playing more cornerbacks there. Second-year cornerbacks Jyaire Brown and Ryan Turner are both getting reps at nickel.
- Davison Igbinosun is “looking fantastic,” Knowles said. “He gets his hands on a lot of balls. He competes. He's got a mental toughness to him. Very pleased to have him here.”
- Knowles said Josh Proctor has “become extremely serious” this spring. He thinks Proctor was set back by missing practice time last offseason as he worked his way back from injuries, but he’s seeing improvement from Proctor in practice this spring.
- Proctor has been practicing as the first-team adjuster (free safety), and Lathan Ransom has been practicing as the first-team bandit (strong safety). “We’re just trying to play to their strengths.”
- Knowles said he will find ways to get Sonny Styles on the field, but right now, the focus is on building depth at safety. He says Styles is getting the chance to compete with Ransom for the starting strong safety job right now, but Styles’ role in the defense this year won’t be defined until the end of preseason camp.
- Knowles said he wants to see young players dominate with the second-team defense, and then they earn the opportunity to get more first-team reps and earn more playing time.
- Knowles said the defensive backs have to win against Ohio State’s wide receivers in practice, even Marvin Harrison Jr. because those are the kind of players they will face in the biggest games of the season. He acknowledged the Buckeyes “did not do our job in those matchup games that we needed to” last season, but he’s seeing the defense get their hands on more balls this spring.
- Gabe Powers is “getting better,” Knowles said. “He's establishing that respect from his teammates. We're encouraging him to compete. He's getting better with his hands and his feet. He's improving. And expectations are high for him, so I'm staying after him.”
- Knowles said having James Laurinaitis helping him coach the linebackers “allows me to do a lot more in terms of the defense and other positions ... plus, he’s a really nice guy. So we can play good cop/bad cop with the linebackers. He’s a really nice guy. I’m not so nice.”
- Cam Martinez has “excellent feet” and reminds Knowles of one of his former defensive backs at Duke, Michael Carter, who now plays for the New York Jets. He says Martinez has “all the tools” but needs to establish his confidence.
- Ja’Had Carter is playing nickel right now, but Knowles believes Carter can contribute at all three safety positions. Knowles said Carter is “extremely coachable” and learns quickly from his mistakes.
- Knowles said both Carter and Igbinosun have come in, put their heads down and worked. “I'm sure they could have gone to other places where people were promising them the world. We just promised them that we would make them better, and they would make us better. And that's what they did. I have not heard a single word out of those guys that's not positive and team-oriented.
- Knowles said Laurinaitis “knows so much from playing in the NFL” that Knowles hasn’t had to teach him much about how to coach.
- Knowles said he teaches defenders to keep their heads out of tackles. He said the Buckeyes want to be aggressive, but they teach players how to make sure they avoid targeting penalties.
- Jack Sawyer is “getting better every day” now that he’s focusing on playing defensive end full-time. “I think that that move and staying out of that package this spring has been really good for Jack.” He thinks the Buckeyes have a “great pair” of starting defensive ends with Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau.
- Knowles said the Buckeyes are going to bring the Jack package into the defense, but he’s targeting Mitchell Melton to play that role, as well as C.J. Hicks. Knowles said he was “really high” on Melton last spring until he got hurt.
- On Hicks: “C.J. is a guy who has such great athletic ability and speed. I think if I can direct him more and not have him read as much but attack more. I think he can be a real threat too at that position.” Knowles said “C.J. can really do whatever he sets his mind to; he is that good of an athlete.” But Hicks is still learning the fundamentals of being a linebacker in a 4-2 scheme. “He’s learning, getting better every day ... there’s really a lot to those two positions, and it’s just a lot to learn. I think coming out of high school, it is a hard transition.”
- Knowles said nothing about his defensive scheme is non-negotiable. “My job is to get a defense that wins. And so whatever’s best, that's what we're going to do.”
- He said the Buckeyes will continue to recruit to a four-down defensive scheme at least as long as Larry Johnson is still Ohio State’s defensive line coach. “He’s the best. He’s the GOAT.”
- On Tim Walton coaching the entire secondary as defensive passing game coordinator: “I think you can get segmented a lot at this level of when you have a variety of great coaches and positions, and I think there are times you don't want to get segmented, right? You want people to hear one voice or somebody to bring it all together. And so I think that's a great move for Tim.”