Ohio State football: Knowles encouraged by what he saw from defense in spring

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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VIDEO: New Ohio State coordinator Jim Knowles on the defense

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio State spring game was never going to provide a good evaluation tool for Jim Knowles’ scheme, and it did not start out on the best notes.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from C.J. Stroud on the eighth play of the scrimmage, and Kyle McCord hit Joe Royer for a 24-yard score on the second possession.

Explore5 takeaways from the spring game

The defense allowed only two more touchdowns the rest of the afternoon, though, and gave both head coach Ryan Day and new defensive coordinator Knowles something to smile about heading into the summer.

“It comes at you fast, and it’s exciting to watch,” said Day, who also noted the 2022 defense should benefit from having many more veterans than the ‘21 unit did. “It’s exciting to see these guys have energy, be decisive, be physical. So I think when you combine the two of those things, it’s exciting over there right now. And in going against them everyday, offense and defense, it’s been a good back and forth. It’s been fun.”

Knowles, who was lured from Oklahoma State with a $1.9 million annual salary and the opportunity to fix a unit that was the weak link on a national championship contender last season, kept things simple Saturday.

He showed different coverages but kept his calls basic, as expected with a marquee matchup with Notre Dame set for Sept. 3.

In the first 14 practices of the spring, he was able to put in much of his scheme, though. Perhaps more than expected.

“Going into the game I felt good about how far we had come, how much we had accomplished,” he said. “Of how much we got installed, how the players took to it. It was as good or better as I could have wished.”

There were several standouts Saturday, including young defensive ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau.

Sawyer forced a holding penalty on starting left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. and later beat him for a sack. Tuimoloau was credited with a pair of sacks while Noah Potter also had two and tackle Jaden McKenzie notched another.

True freshman safety Kye Stokes had six tackles and flashed a few times during the afternoon. He broke up a pair of passes, as did classmate Jordan Hancock.

And yet while the youngsters made some eye-catching plays, none have to be forced into major playing time thanks to veterans returning at nearly every position.

All four of the first-team defensive linemen Saturday were seniors while linebackers Steel Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg are both juniors who saw their first major playing time last year.

The secondary also has experience, including senior Tanner McCalister, who started for Knowles at Oklahoma State the last two seasons.

He joins a group with two familiar faces at cornerback — Denzel Burke and Cam Brown — plus 2021′s leading tackler, safety Ronnie Hickman.

Then there is senior Josh Proctor, a talented wild card who is still working his way back from a broken leg.

“Regardless of talent, these players that we have want to learn,” Knowles said. “They soaked up everything I did. They were just into it, into football, into change and the way we run meetings. They picked it up, and they picked it up at a high speed. It’s just a football intelligent group who wants to be coached, who wants to be led, so I’m really happy about that.”

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