Ohio State football players give first impressions of newly hired defensive coordinator Jim Knowles

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State is expected to continue to play a base defense that features four down linemen, two linebackers and a hybrid safety-linebacker after Jim Knowles takes over as coordinator.

Jim Knowles, whom Ohio State hired earlier this month as the team’s defensive coordinator, is preparing to step into that role Jan. 2.

That means Knowles is not part of Ohio State’s preparation for the Rose Bowl.

But his pending arrival has had the attention of players, who have looked up his background and watched highlights of the defense he ran at Oklahoma State.

Several of them took note that the Cowboys were ranked in the top-five nationally in total defense this season.

“Hopefully he can bring that here,” linebacker Steele Chambers said.

Impressed by Jim Knowles' record of success, attack-style defense

Giving their first impressions of the 56-year-old coaching veteran who will soon run their defense, most seemed impressed not only by Knowles’ track record of success but also his defenses' style of play.

“What stood out to me is they're always attacking,” defensive end Jack Sawyer said. “They're always bringing a couple guys, and they're always attacking the offense instead of playing on their heels. I like that. So hopefully we do some of that.”

Ohio State's soon-to-be defensive coordinator Jim Knowles ran an Oklahoma State defense last season that ranked atop the country with 54 sacks and 113 tackles for loss.

Under Knowles, Oklahoma State caused plenty of disruption in the backfield. In 2021, it ranked atop the country with 54 sacks and 113 tackles for loss.

The specifics of how Knowles might retool a defense that ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten are short.

Knowles won’t be formally introduced during a news conference at Ohio State until at least next month, and Day downplayed questions about the new hire when he spoke with reporters last week at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

But enough of a peek was given to indicate that the Buckeyes will continue using a 4-2-5 formation as its base defense.

Day said they would continue featuring four down linemen and two linebackers with a hybrid safety-linebacker that has been known as the “bullet” position in recent seasons, though Knowles might have his own spin with certain looks and rotations.

“Jim will have his own flavor to things and what he sees in talent and those type of things,” Day said, “but schematically, we’re looking for the same type of players.”

It was a message he passed along to players, as well.

“When we first had a Zoom call with Coach Day when they hired him, he said we're going to just be playing our base defense,” Chambers said. “With a new coach, I’m assuming there’s going to be a bunch of new packages and stuff, like third-down stuff, that he’s going to implement.”

Knowles was scheduled to have an introductory meeting with players earlier this month, but he wasn’t to be much more involved beyond that.

Citing a desire to give him a “fresh start” in January, Day said Knowles wasn’t going to watch the Buckeyes’ practices ahead of the Rose Bowl.

“He was going to come for a couple of days and just kind of get the lay of the land and meet with a few folks,” Day said. “I don't think it was the right thing to do to have him out at practice. I think our staff is intact right now. We got to do a great job of playing in the Rose Bowl.”

Safety Kourt Williams had yet to personally meet with Knowles but said he has confidence in any hire Day makes.

“I trust in Coach Day, as I know my teammates do as well,” Williams said. “I know Coach Day is always going to bring in people that he feels is best for the team and best for the defense. I have to trust that, and I have to trust him, and I do.”

There might be more to come next month. As it stands, at least one of Ohio State's 10 on-field assistants will not return in order to open a vacancy for Knowles.  

Day said he would sit down with Knowles following the Rose Bowl “to figure out what this is going to look like.”

But for now, they all liked the new addition.

“When you’re coming in to be the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, you have to check all the boxes,” Day said. “It’s not just one. I think his past and what he’s done; when you watch the guys who have played for him, what they’ve done schematically, how they speak of him; former coaches that have worked with him, that he’s worked for, you add up all those things and you look at the production, it all speaks for itself.”

Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at jkaufman@dispatch.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.

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