There has been a lot of talk about Leo’s position since Jim Knowles moved from Stillwater to Columbus, but until Tuesday very little came from members of the Ohio State program.
In fact, when asked about the linebacker/defensive end hybrid position — a calling card of Knowles’ previous defenses at Oklahoma State and Duke — Buckeye players have been intentionally low-key this spring.
“The Leo? Yeah, I don’t know what the Lion is, I don’t know what you’re talking about, honestly,” second-year defensive end Jack Sawyer joked last week. “I haven’t heard of the Lion. Have you heard of Leo? I do not have. Honestly, we haven’t done much with it yet. So, honestly, I can’t really tell you (much about it).
At least during the first week of spring training, Knowles made it clear that the Buckeyes wouldn’t worry about implementing the position early on, as the team still had a long way to go to deepen the fundamentals of his look. base four. But three weeks later, Ohio State has started to pull out all the stops, and his name — Jack, not Leo, for now — coincidentally reflects the player who seems to be the leading candidate for the role right now.
“We dropped a bunch of them today, actually,” Knowles said. “So my plan has been to push back, push back, so I’ll upload a bunch of information, then I’ll go back to calling the same defense for a while, then I’ll upload a bunch of info. We want to be able to film everything so we can get away with it. But we put it today.
“I told them we weren’t going to call him Lion, we’re going to call him Jack for now, because the Lion is the king of the jungle. So when you become the Lion, that’s a big problem because you can do what a D-end does and you’re going to do what a linebacker does. So right now it’s just more what we call a jack position.
“A group of guys had a chance today. Jack (Sawyer) tried his luck. I like it, I like it very much. He’s serious about it.
Besides Sawyer, another player Knowles likes in place of Jack right now is redshirt sophomore Mitchell Melton, who started his Buckeye career as a linebacker but worked with Larry Johnson and the defensive line at the ‘Ohio State this spring since returning from a season-ending injury. suffered last year. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Melton’s frame is smaller than Sawyer’s but taller than most linebackers on Buckeye’s roster.
“The guy who impressed me after the move, quickly, was Mitchell (Melton). Mitchell did a great job for Coach Johnson and then we put him in that Jack position and I think he showed up really well,” Knowles said. “So he was kind of a guy who jumped on me.”
Melton was also the most recent recipient of Knowles’ new Silver Bullet of the Day honor, given to an individual Buckeye defender after each day of padded practice, voted on by staff.
—Jim Knowles (@CoachJimKnowles) March 29, 2022
But Sawyer and Melton aren’t the only two Buckeyes to have seen reps in the Jack position, as it seems Knowles isn’t afraid to try out a slew of different body types at the hybrid spot depending on the situation. roster, game or circumstances. Along with the aforementioned pair, Knowles said Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Caden Curry and Palaie Gaoteote all tried their hand at Jack on Tuesday.
“JJB, he played a bit today, he’s kind of coming out of injury, so he’s had a few reps. Caden (Curry) is a contender, I liked some of the things he did in terms of speed ball, so he’s a guy we’re looking at. And then from the linebacker position, EA, we want to try to find a role for him,” Knowles said. “So we had EA involved in this Jack position and then also in a Sam position that we will sometimes use against teams when they play two tight ends, which our offense does a bit, so we brought in EA.
Knowles said JT Tuimoloau could also “eventually” play the Jack position, but “it’s just a matter of who’s the best and who’s the best up front too.”
Originating in the hybrid stance that Knowles popularized, the 35-year-old college coaching veteran said it was designed to impact an opposing offense’s running game first and foremost, but that she has evolved into a role that creates a multi-faceted impact on the opposition.
“It definitely started as a disrupter to the racing schedule,” Knowles said. “You talk to the attacking coaches and they have to make different plans for the threes and the fours and what are you and can you do the two with the same personnel? So it starts as a running game disrupter and then it comes down to how to attack the wards. Now all of a sudden once you got the guy moving you put him in different places now you see how the offense fits into that and their schemes and you can come back with some other things and countering in the passing game.
“This player is productive in terms of pass-rush because I think he develops a mentality of being a joker, of being a guy who makes plays. I think it’s a great recruiting tool. But yeah, it started in the racing game.
After slowly starting to implement new concepts, Knowles knows he needs to get the Buckeyes up to speed with relative haste given the expectation of an immediate turnaround on defense. But he also knows that putting too much on his players can be overwhelming, and he’s had to walk a fine line to balance that dynamic.
Still, Knowles said he only expects Buckeye’s defenders to know “two-thirds” of his defensive plan by the end of the spring.
“You just have to look them in the eye because we’ll go in a day and upload nine tusks to our Jet package, that’s what we call for the Jack,” Knowles said. “And then you do it against cans, you run around and you just do it against trash cans, and then you do it against the offense. And then I started running like crazy saying, ‘Go ahead, go ahead.’ And then they’re fine, and then you see their glassy eyes, and then you know, OK, it’s time to call base. “Give me a base four down period,” then you sort of back off.
Ohio State is far from done setting up its new defense, and with some concepts – including the Jack stance – it’s really just getting started. But Knowles is accelerating his students’ learning curve as the spring continues to roll on and hopes to have exposed the Buckeyes to a good chunk of his system by the end of the spring game.
“I want to put everything in place because of the urgency, but also so I can teach,” Knowles said. “I don’t want to keep showing the Oklahoma State film. So I want to record it, good or not so good, and then we can learn from it all summer. We can put it all together and learn from it.