Knowles notebook: New Ohio State DC on new positions, coaching philosophy, spring progress

Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles held court Tuesday for a group of reporters anxious to pick his brain about many topics.

He did not disappoint, touching on his unique use of defensive ends, his view of running backs as linebackers, his teaching methods and more.

Here’s a look at everything he discussed:

  • He likes what he has seen from Tommy Eichenberg. He is absorbing the defense quickly. Knowles also praised the leadership of Teradja Mitchell, who was a captain last season but did not play as much as might have been expected.
  • He has seen nothing but good things from Arizona State transfer Chip Trayanum. He likes linebackers who were running backs because they can see where the running back is going. He compared it to Wayne Gretzky saying he would go to where the puck was going to be, not where it was. He’s also seeing good things from Steele Chambers in that regard.
  • Linebackers need reps to be assessed by the coaching staff, so they are doing what they can to maximize reps at this point since he is getting to know everyone for the first time. This also explains why they have moved some linebackers to other positions.
  • They installed a bunch of defense Tuesday. He likes to drop a bunch of information on them at a time then let it sink in for a few days then give them more.
  • They had not previously done a lot with the Leo position, but that was a big thing Tuesday. He also said they are calling it the Jack right now because “the Leo is the king of the jungle and they don’t have one of those yet.” Jack Sawyer is among the guys who could play Jack LB. So is Mitchell Melton, who has done a great job according to Knowles. Javontae Jean-Baptiste is also getting a look there as well as true freshman Caden Curry. Palaie Gaoteote also needs a role, so he is gonna get a shot.
  • The Leo/Jack position, which has gotten a lot of attention early on from fans and media, might seem like a stand-up rush end position, but it started as a way to disrupt run fits. Offenses approach defenses as either having three-man fronts of four-down fronts and have different blocking rules for them, so this is a way to mess with those rules. (Lots of teams have a rush end or an end who drops into coverage regularly, but this is a unique position.)
  • The Jack needs to be quick and have the ability to disrupt things. He has to have some hip turn and to be able to get around the corner. He has to be tough and able to play any gap. Football acumen is a big thing about playing this spot, and having a good one helps Knowles come up with answers for what the offense is doing.
  • They have a package that includes a SAM linebacker for teams that use two tight ends, and that was something else they installed Tuesday. Reid Carrico is among the candidates to be the SAM, as is Gaoteote.
  • He’s happy with the guys playing nickel safety — Tanner McAlister, Cam Martinez and Lejond Cavazos. He needs more to step up at the other two safety spots. Ronnie Hickman looks great at Adjuster (free safety) while Kourt Williams brings something to the boundary safety (Bandit). However, he has to avoid Williams getting into bad matchups with receivers (because he is more of a small linebacker than a big safety). Hickman can do it all. (He was the boundary safety in the old Ohio State defense but is likely moving to Adjuster now.)
  • He loves Tyleik Williams. The sophomore defensive tackle jumps off the screen at times.
  • Larry Johnson is the GOAT. The way the defensive line comes off the ball will help the linebackers. The whole defense looks a lot different in team drills than it does in seven on seven because of the presence of the DL.
  • He likes what he has seen from freshmen linebackers C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers. Hicks has good short-area quickness. Powers is a quick learner.

  • Five-star recruit Sonny Styles from Pickerington will get a look at safety when he arrives. Some think he might outgrow that position, but Knowles thinks he can play it. (Have to guess he could be a “Bandit” or boundary safety because that is going to be a bigger guy who will help in run support at times.)
  • Someone asked if he has to prime guys for being ready to play secondary roles since there are so many at various positions, but he said that won’t be until game week. He doesn’t want to stifle competition before that. That way guys are always striving to improve. You never know how good they can get. Then it all kinda works out. He said special teams coach Parker Fleming does a good job demonstrating to them how guys who are stars now excelled on special teams early in their careers, so that can help with buy-in.
  • They didn’t use the SAM a lot at Oklahoma State, though they prepped it a lot then would find they didn’t need it because even teams who used 12 personnel (two tight ends, two receivers) would still play like 3-receiver (11 personnel) teams. He predicts that will not be the case at Ohio State. They will face lots of legitimate 12-personnel teams (Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa — maybe Notre Dame and others).
  • There is a new Silver Bullet Award he gives out after practice, and Mitchell Melton was one of the early winners. Film doesn’t lie. It shows who is picking up the defense and making plays.
  • Carrico is a quiet guy who is making progress after redshirting last season. He will get more of an opportunity at SAM with Cade Stover moving back to tight end.
  • There is a balance that must be maintained between installation and teaching. He is looking at getting about 2/3rds of the defense installed in the spring.
  • Jason Babin was his first “Jack” at Western Michigan. He was a former running back who had broken his leg his senior year so he went under the radar.
  • He likes what he has seen from senior safety Josh Proctor on film. They can use him and need him, but it remains to be seen what he can do once he gets healthy. He can change the game with his physical ability.
  • J.T. Tuimoloau has great feet and excellent take-off. He also has excellent reaction.
  • Knowles loves it in Columbus, although he hasn’t gotten out much. He is a city guy so that’s good, but so far he’s been mostly concentrating on football aside from some time smoking cigars.
  • Someone asked if he has started to think about the raw talent at his disposal compared to other places, and he said that will come later. Right now he is just pushing everyone to pick up the defense and improve individually. He is trying to drive them uphill and see what they can learn. The talent thing will more come into play when he starts doing game plans and he tries to figure out how to utilize guys.
  • C.J. Stroud makes seven on sevens practice frustrating because he is so good at finding the open man. Knowles compared it to facing Eli Manning in practice at Ole Miss. Sometimes guys just see everything and catch you in whatever you’re doing.

About the Author