Ohio State football hopeful for linebacker Chip Trayanum to return kickoffs

Joey Kaufman
The Columbus Dispatch

Chip Trayanum made a quiet debut as Ohio State’s kickoff returner last week.

All five times he lined up deep for returns against Arkansas State resulted in touchbacks as the kicks by Tristan Mattson sailed past him and bounced off the turf in the end zone.  

The Buckeyes are hopeful another outcome might unfold when they host Toledo in prime time on Saturday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he took the first one he’s ever gotten back,” wide receiver Emeka Egbuka said.

At first blush, Trayanum is an unlikely candidate to return kicks. He’s a linebacker and the roster lists him as 230 pounds. The Buckeyes, stocked with talent at their skill positions, aren’t short on options.

But Trayanum was a running back at Arizona State in previous seasons before switching to the defensive side of the ball after he transferred to Ohio State this past winter and still offers plenty of burst.

His athleticism remains held in high regard among teammates who relay accounts of his impressive feats.

Because Ohio State linebacker Chip Trayanum rushed for 401 yards and six touchdowns last season at Arizona State, the Buckeyes are using him as a kick returner.

“He’s one of the fastest guys on the team being 230 pounds,” Egbuka said. “He can do backflips like it’s nothing. He’s one of the strongest guys in the weight room. Me personally, I would not want to tackle him.”

Egbuka began this season as the Buckeyes’ kickoff returner, but after fellow receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba was injured in the season opener against Notre Dame, he took on Smith-Njigba’s role returning punts.

To limit Egbuka’s workload, the Buckeyes put Trayanum as their kickoff returner the following week.

Buckeyes coach Ryan Day expects Trayanum to also be a durable returner, adding to his value on special teams.

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“You got to have somebody that’s got some strength to them,” Day said, “because that can be a situation where you got to be strong. You got to be built like a running back or a bigger wide receiver to do it all the time. You can try to hit a home run once in a while with a slighter guy, but you run the risk of them getting whacked.

“We think he really has an opportunity to be a good returner for us.”

Egbuka said he’s already showed that ability in practice.

“You don’t realize how fast he is until he hits that crease,” Egbuka said, “and once he hits that crease, no one on the scout kickoff team has been able to catch him.”

The eventual return of Smith-Njigba could prompt the Buckeyes to reconfigure their returners, but Day said Thursday that Trayanum will get a shot for at least this week.

“He’s shown us enough that he’s earned the right to take it back,” Day said, “and the guys believe in him, so we’ll put him back there and evaluate him after the game and see where to go next.”

Dawand Jones focused on fixing false starts

Ohio State right tackle Dawand Jones said he prioritized cutting down on false-start penalties against Arkansas State.

Jones committed three of them in the season opener against Notre Dame, but was not flagged last week.

“That was one of my main focuses,” Jones said. “Knowing they’re not a top-five or Power Five team, that’s a game you can work on your technique and what you need to work on.”  

Looking back on his effort against the Irish, Jones thought he had fallen out of rhythm.

“Stuff happens,” he said. “Something we get in the flow of things and we’re not on the same track.”

The fastest tempos can be challenging for Jones, the Buckeyes’ heaviest offensive lineman, requiring a lot of stop-start sequences.

“Once I’m going full speed, it’s hard for me to slow down,” Jones said, “so sometimes I get off the ball faster than everyone else.”

Ohio State football injury update

Day reiterated his hope that Smith-Njigba, as well as other receivers Julian Fleming and Kamryn Babb, will return against Toledo.

“We’re hoping all those guys are going to be on the field in pregame warmups and will be available this weekend,” he said.

Two days earlier, Day said he expected Smith-Njigba and Fleming to be back.

“They're both working their hardest, doing a lot of recovery to get back as soon as they can,” Egbuka said. “If they are able to get back, that would be great. We're happy to have them.

“If they're not able to, we're just focused on getting them healthy and making sure that we're going to have them the rest of the season.”

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

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