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'We have learned a lot.' Ohio State's Steele Chambers excited about new Buckeyes defense

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Steele Chambers is now a veteran linebacker, even if he doesn’t always feel like one.

A year ago, Chambers switched from running back after finding himself in a logjam at that position. His speed and aggressiveness provided a jolt to an Ohio State defense that needed it. Chambers finished with 47 tackles, which ranked fifth on the team, including five for losses.

But because of his lack of experience at his new position, Chambers had to rely on instincts more than knowledge.

When he looks at last year’s video, especially the loss to Michigan, he sees more bad than good.

Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Steele Chambers (22) and Ohio State Buckeyes safety Ronnie Hickman (14) tackle Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson (5) after a catch during the second quarter of their game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on October 30, 2021.

“I cringe, mostly because we had ‘Team Up North' period today and we watched the film,” Chambers said Wednesday. “I hadn't seen it until then, and now that stuff's pretty sickening. That was pretty rough, and I feel like that game determines what kind of season we have.”

Like everyone on the Buckeyes’ defense, Chambers is in the midst of another transition. New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is implementing his scheme this spring.

Asked if he knows where he is supposed to be more than he did last year, Chambers replied, “I'd like to think I do. Sometimes (it’s) a little iffy, but I'm getting the hang of it.”

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Knowles, who is in charge of the linebacker unit, is introducing his scheme in big chunks at a time. Sometimes, it’s more than players can absorb and translate to the field immediately.

“We have learned a lot,” Chambers said. “It's pretty amazing how much he's put in through 10 practices. At first, I was kind of pissed we were doing all this stuff because I just want to get out there and play, and (instead) we're putting in all these plays. But now taking a step back and realizing what he's done to his defense, it's pretty outstanding.”

Knowles’ scheme is based on unpredictability and forcing offenses to adapt to what the defense is doing. Asked if he believed that opposing offenses were too attuned to what the Buckeyes were doing defensively last season, Chambers paused, smiled, and then said softly, “Yeah.”

Knowles plans to use a 4-2-5 alignment as his base defense. Competition for the two linebacker spots will be intense. In addition to Chambers, the Buckeyes have veterans Tommy Eichenberg, Cody Simon, Palaie Gaoteote and Teradja Mitchell as well as newcomers Chip Trayanum (a transfer from Arizona State) and freshmen C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers. Redshirt freshman Reid Carrico also could be in the mix.

Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Steele Chambers (22) and Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Cody Simon (30) tackle Michigan Wolverines running back Hassan Haskins (25) during the first quarter of their NCAA College football at Michigan Stadium at Ann Arbor, Mi on November  27, 2021.

And that's after Cade Stover switched back to tight end and Mitchell Melton was moved to defensive end.

“We came in at the beginning of the spring and it seemed like we had 38 linebackers,” Chambers said. “Now we've shortened down a little bit. Everyone in the room is just great players, great guys. There's definitely competition all the way from top to bottom. That just raises all of our play and makes us better players and a better defense in general.”

Learning the scheme will take time, but Chambers believes the experience from last year, even if some of it was painful, will pay off.

“We were all guys just starting to get into our roles last year,” he said. “We were tiptoeing around sometimes. But now we start to understand exactly what we’re doing, and we can just go.”

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at brabinowitz@dispatch.com or on Twitter @brdispatch.

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