Going into 2022 we all know how good this Ohio State offense can be, the offense isn’t Ohio States biggest question mark. If you asked any Ohio State fan what is the biggest question mark for Ohio State, they would say the defense. The defense is a big question mark but we are going to get more specific then that. The linebackers are Ohio State’s biggest question mark going into 2022.
In recent history Ohio State hasn’t had great linebacker play. In the Off-season the Buckeyes hired a new Linebacker coach in Sam McGrath, McGrath comes in from Duke looking to reshape this Linebacker room.
The Buckeyes have a lot of bodies in this room, but questionable talent. Ohio States linebacker core is led by senior Tommy Eichenberg who had 33 tackles and 1 int last season. The Buckeyes other projected starting linebacker is Steele Chambers who converted from a Running Back last season. The SAM spot is more of a battle, Redshirt freshman Reid Carrico and 5th year senior Teradja Mitchell are set to duke it out in camp.
The other Linebackers in the room are Senior Palaie Gaoteote, Junior Cody Simon, Junior DeaMonte Trayanum, and True freshmen CJ Hicks and Gabe Powers. I expect those five to fight for playing time.
What Does Improvement Look Like?
This Buckeye defense needs a leader in the middle of the field, Tommy Eichenberg needs to step up as a senior and lead this young group. We watched Eichenberg flash in the Rose Bowl having 17 tackles and winning defensive MVP. Ohio State needs more of those performances from Tommy Eichenberg this season. If Eichenberg can take the next step as a player and a leader, it will do wonders for this defense.
You could make the case that Steele Chambers was Ohio States best Linebacker last season. Cambers ended 2021 with 27 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception. Last season was Chambers first year at Linebacker, he came to Ohio State to be a Running Back. With it being his second year at the position I expect him to show improvement. Chambers learning the role more will improve his IQ and football skills. If Eichenberg doesn’t take a step forward, Chambers can move into that lead Linebacker role.
The 5th year senior Teradja Mitchell has had his ups and downs since he arrived in Columbus. Mitchell was a player that saw a lot of playing time early and by the Michigan game he didn’t see the field much at all. He finished the year with 21 tackles. Teradja Mitchell is pretty good in run support, which the Buckeyes struggle at the most. In todays game you have to be versatile to get playing time. Michell’s pass defense is atrocious, we saw Oregon get Mitchell lined up against their TE and it didn’t go well for the Buckeyes.
If Teradja Mitchell wants to play over the Buckeyes young Linebackers he needs to step it up in pass defense. Mitchell getting better in the passing game would be huge for Ohio State and turning around this defense.
Can the young guys play?
Reid Carrico is a redshirt freshman that we have heard a lot of lately. According to coaches Reid Carrico has really stood out this offseason. Carrico is a big athletic linebacker, he is a good asset in coverage. His coverage skills gives him a leg up on Teradja Mitchell. I expect to see Reid Carrico on the field a lot this season even if he isn’t a starter. Carrico could be a big bright spot on the defense this year.
After those four Linebackers expect to see some sort of mix between Senior Palaie Gaoteote and Junior Cody Simon. Gaoteote definitely has a lot of potential. We didn’t see much from him last season but his tape from USC is excellent. He is a hard hitting Linebacker but isn’t great in coverage. For Cody Simon, we kind of know what he is. Simon is an average Linebacker that hopefully can grow as a player this season. He had 21 tackles last season but he’s not too exciting to watch.
As for the rest of the Linebacker room, there are two freshman in CJ Hicks and Gabe Powers and transfer running back turned linebacker DeaMonte Trayanum. CJ Hicks and Gabe Powers have potential through the roof. Those two will be a top linebacker duo in college football in two years. In 2022 I don’t see these freshman getting much playing time. DeaMonte Trayanum is a Running Back from Arizona State who transferred to Ohio State to be a Linebacker. With this being his first season at linebacker I doubt he will play much. The amount of bodies in this linebacker room will force Trayanum to stay on the sidelines this season.
The Buckeyes have a lot of bodies in this room and a lot of question marks in the room. While I think they can take a step forward defensively this season I don’t see the Linebackers improving much. The Buckeyes need big years from Eichenberg and Chambers and I don’t see it. I can see Chambers taking a step forward as a linebacker but not enough to turn around this room. Eichenberg needs to be a leader as the Vet of the group but he’s a very quiet guy and I don’t think he can take that step.
Reid Carrico will be the bright spot of this group this season. Carrico will overtake Michell but it won’t make a huge difference this season. In the next 2-3 years this Linebacker group will be one of the best in the country led by Reid Carrico, CJ Hicks and Gabe Powers. As for this season except a little improvement but not to where it needs to be.
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