Ohio State Linebacker Tommy Eichenberg's Status is “Up in the Air” for Cotton Bowl

By Andy Anders on December 26, 2023 at 3:21 pm
Tommy Eichenberg

While Ohio State’s offense is breaking in a new quarterback, its de facto quarterback on defense might not be taking the field either.

Tommy Eichenberg’s status for the Cotton Bowl against Missouri is “up in the air” per Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles as he prepares for the 2024 NFL draft and continues to nurse an arm injury he sustained against Rutgers on Nov. 4.

Eichenberg, the top player who can “see the forest through the trees” on Ohio State’s defense in Knowles’ terms, has manned the Mike linebacker position each of the past two seasons for the Buckeyes. The Ohio native is often responsible for making sure the defensive front is properly aligned and aware of its responsibilities on a given down.

A semifinalist for the Butkus Award – given annually to the best linebacker in college football – in both 2022 and 2023, Eichenberg has led Ohio State in tackles both seasons with 120 and 82 tackles, respectively. He did so this season despite missing two games with the above-mentioned arm injury.

Eichenberg added 12 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks with an interception returned for a touchdown in 2022, though his disruption numbers dipped in 2023 as Knowles opted for a scheme focused more on discipline and big-play prevention than creating chaos. Eichenberg finished the campaign with 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble.

For his efforts, Eichenberg received the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award from the Big Ten following the regular season. He earned first-team All-Big Ten from both the coaches and media in both 2022 and 2023 and picked up second-team All-American honors in both seasons. He’s a two-time captain in Columbus as well.

With one year of eligibility remaining after he played during the COVID-19-plagued season of 2020, granting him an additional season, Eichenberg tangentially declared his intentions to depart for the draft when he accepted a Senior Bowl invite.

No official word has been given yet as to whether the grunt worker will play in the Cotton Bowl or not. He was seen going through drills with Ohio State’s linebackers at the portion of the Buckeyes’ practice open to the media on Tuesday. As of yet, no players are confirmed to be opting out for OSU, though projected top-five draft pick Marvin Harrison Jr. appears unlikely to play as he was not practicing on Tuesday

Knowles added that there are no defensive players that he knows will opt out.

"You love to see a bunch of guys who believe in the brotherhood," Knowles said. "They believe in how far our defense has come and they want to finish the job, so they keep (playing), no matter what their future is. They keep playing because they care about their brothers and they care about the Silver Bullets."

If Eichenberg doesn’t play against the Tigers, Cody Simon will likely take over his starting job at Mike linebacker, as he did when Eichenberg was out against Michigan State and Minnesota.

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