Ohio State Buckeyes: Top linebacker iffy for Cotton Bowl

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Ohio State might have to face Missouri without the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles told reporters in Dallas on Tuesday that senior Tommy Eichenberg’s ability to suit up against the Tigers and All-American running back Cody Schrader is uncertain.

“That’s still up in the air,” he said.

On the bright side, they have a ready-made replacement for Eichenberg in Cody Simon, a senior who intends to return next season.

He has already had an impact this season sharing time with the other starter, Steele Chambers, and filling in for Eichenberg against Minnesota and Michigan State after he first suffered an arm injury at Rutgers.

“He represents everything that we do here, and he’s got a great understanding of the game,” Knowles said of Simon, who has 45 tackles on the season, including three for loss.

“I have always said that he could be a starter really anywhere in the country, so to have him back is a pivotal cog for the defense,” Knowles said. “I think the more he plays, everyone is going to see how talented he is, and he’s a great young man, too.”

Going into the game short-handed at linebacker could also increase the likelihood C.J. Hicks finally gets some meaningful snaps, though Knowles seemed to acknowledge the sophomore from Alter High School’s time is more likely to come in 2024.

“I don’t know that it will get done in this bowl game, but I still think of that term as ‘unleashing’ him, and it will happen eventually,” said Knowles, who talked last spring about finding a role for Hicks but never really did in the fall.

“You see things in bowl practice where you get a chance to line him up in different places, and I think you see that incredible talent and speed,” Knowles said of the team’s top-rated recruit in the class of 2022.

“And I know that I have my work cut out for me with C.J. and finding the right place for him because he’s really a guy who needs to be unleashed. He needs to be able to play free and roam and do a bunch of different things.

“It’s a good question. It’s definitely something that I’m going to spend a lot of time in the offseason to get him going. You’re going to create some things around him. And now with Tommy and Steele gone, I think that’s going to drive me even more to put him in the right place so that he can succeed.”

Hicks saw action in all 12 games, mostly on special teams.

He has eight tackles, including one for loss, this season.

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