COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State new defensive coordinator and linebacker’s coach Jim Knowles has a contingent of 11 linebackers practicing this fall camp, including the Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 tacklers on the team in 2021. Five practices into fall camp and he likes what he sees from his unit.
“These guys are hungry,” Knowles, who spent the past four seasons as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator, said. “They’re tired of being pointed at as being deficient in any way. They came here as the best players in the country, and they want to play. They want to be coached.”
And they want to be good.
“Our goal is to become the best in the Big Ten and the best in the nation,” said junior Steele Chambers, who was fifth on the team in tackles last season with 47 after converting to linebacker from running back in fall camp.”
Graduated “super senior” and fifth-year player Teradja Mitchell agreed.
“My standard and the way we work, I feel like we should be aiming for No. 1,” Mitchell said. “That’s the goal. The way we work and how hard we work … you might as well go for the top spot.”
And when Knowles was asked about head coach Ryan Day’s comment about hoping the defense is Top 10 this year he replied: “I wish that he would’ve said top 5 because that’s what we expect. We talk about having a silver bullet defense to mirror the traditions that have been around here. I tell the guys that means Top 5.”
A potential for depth
Junior Tommy Eichenberg, the Rose Bowl defensive MVP after his record, 17-tackle performance, started four games last season, played in all 13 and was second on the team with 64 tackles and first among linebackers with 6.5 tackles-for-loss.
Chambers also started four games last year and, along with Eichenberg, has been impressive so far in fall camp.
“Tommy and Steele have been really solidifying things at linebacker,” Knowles said. “I like Cody and Teradja mixing in, and Chip and C.J. EA (Palaie) has been kind of a float-around guy for us. I feel like we have potential there for depth, but still developing.”
Cody Simon and Mitchell led all linebackers with 10 and eight starts last season, respectively. An injury kept Simon out of the Rose Bowl after a 54-tackle regular season, but he is back practicing. Mitchell had 45 tackles.
Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum is one of the fastest and strongest linebackers on the team, according to his teammates, and was the first “newcomer” to have the black stripe removed from his helmet, signaling he’s a Buckeye and ready to contribute. That happened following Tuesday’s practice.
The C.J. that Knowles refers to is freshman C.J. Hicks, a five-star prospect at Archbishop Alter High School in Dayton and the No. 1 player in Ohio as a senior in 2021.
Palaie Gaoteote is in his second season with the program after transferring from USC. He played in eight games last season.
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