Ohio State Football position previews 2024: Linebackers

The talent is there, but the game experience is lacking for the Ohio State linebackers

Cody Simon
Cody Simon / Ben Jackson/GettyImages
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This is the seventh in a series of articles that I will be submitting as position group rankings of the 2024 Ohio State football team from least concerning to most, based on my perceptions. These articles will conclude the week of the 2024 Ohio State Spring Game, scheduled for 1 pm ET on April 13th. As always, I encourage you to let me know what you think and let me know if you believe I have missed anything key in my analysis.

9th - Wide Receivers

8th - Defensive Backs

7th - Running Backs

6th - Special Teams

5th - Defensive Line

4th - Tight Ends

3rd - Linebackers

Players Lost - Reid Carrico (via the transfer portal to West Virginia), Steele Chambers (eligibility + NFL Draft), Tommy Eichenberg (eligibility + NFL Draft)

Players Returning - Nigel Glover, C.J. Hicks, Mitchell Melton, Gabe Powers, Arvell Reese, Cody Simon, Kourt Williams II

Player Moving To Linebacker - Sonny Styles

Freshmen Participating In Spring Practice - Payton Pierce, Garrett Stover

The tradition of strong Ohio State linebackers goes back for decades, with popular names such as Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, Marcus Marek, and Chris Spielman all familiar to fans of the program. The departures of Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers from the Ohio State program, as both players await their respective NFL futures with the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft, has Ohio State's defense seeking who will be in the next group of talented players who will have their names associated with such a strong football heritage.

It is not a question of talent, as any of the players listed above as 'returning' were all heavily recruited by just about every major program across the country. It is more a question of experience, and that experience is something that can only be gained when the season begins on August 31st in Ohio Stadium versus Akron.

Is It Time For A Game Of "Simon Says"?

Cody Simon is a likely starter at middle linebacker, having filled in for the injured Tommy Eichenberg over the last few games. Listed at 6'2", 235 pounds, Simon will probably be tasked with making the defensive calls for the unit and could be a probable captain candidate for the 2024 season.

Where There's A Will...

The Will linebacker, or weakside linebacker, had been capably manned by Steele Chambers. All indications going into spring practice were that C.J. Hicks would be next in line for that position. While Hicks could wind up as the starter, it is by no means a guarantee, as...

It May Be a 'Sonny' Day

The suspicion that many, including myself, had at the beginning of Ohio State's spring practices was that Sonny Styles would move from safety to linebacker. Those suspicions were confirmed by Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles at the beginning of March.

Styles is too good of a football player to not be on the field and could be pushing Hicks for the starting position. On the other hand, Hicks has played the linebacker position longer and may have a better understanding of Knowles' defensive scheme.

What About A 4-3, So All 3 Linebackers Could Be On The Field?

Now we are getting somewhere. Instead of Jim Knowles' traditional 4-2-5 alignment, Ohio State may be using a 4-3 scheme, which would allow Simon, Styles, and Hicks to all be on the field. This could be the defensive formation against Ohio State's opponents that are heavily run-oriented, or in short-yardage situations.

What About The Other Returning Players At Linebacker?

As stated up above, Ohio State is suffering from a lack of overall game experience at the position. Gabe Powers and Arvell Reese could be in the mix at the 'Mike' or middle linebacker position, backing up Cody Simon. Reese even spent time last season on the defensive line, as well as on special teams units. Like Sonny Styles, Reese may be one of those players who may be given opportunities to contribute in a variety of situations.

Nigel Glover and Kourt Williams II are truly wild cards within the linebacker room. Glover was originally committed to Northwestern, then transferred to Ohio State as fall camp began in 2023. Glover redshirted in 2023, and this upcoming season may be an opportunity for more playing time at linebacker by excelling on the special teams units.

As for Kourt Williams II, his playing career has unfortunately been marked by injuries that have reduced his playing time opportunities. Even with the injuries, Williams is well-respected by his teammates, having been named a captain for the 2022 season. Williams is still recovering from an ACL injury that ended his 2023 season in last year's Fall camp and will not be participating in Spring football practices.

What About The True Freshmen Who Enrolled Early For Spring Football?

Payton Pierce and Garrett Stover both enrolled in January and participated in winter conditioning. Like Kourt Williams II, Pierce is unavailable this spring due to an undisclosed injury but should be ready to go for fall camp. Garrett Stover is making a move from safety to linebacker, so the learning curve may require participation on special teams units in 2024, before truly making a push for playing time at linebacker.

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It is not a question of talent, but experience. Now it is up to Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and new Ohio State linebackers coach James Laurinaitis to put the pieces in place for the Ohio State linebackers to excel on the field in the upcoming 2024 season.