COLUMBUS — Preparations for the 2023 season are officially underway for the Ohio State football team as preseason camp kicked off Thursday morning with the first of 25 practices leading up to the season-opener at Indiana on Sept. 2.
Following practice, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles met with the media to discuss where his defense stands as the offseason enters its final stretch. Knowles is entering his second year at the helm of the Ohio State defense after a once-promising first campaign went off the rails in losses to Michigan and Georgia to finish the season.
With the exception of the ongoing quarterback battle, no question will be more important for Ohio State to answer this month than how it will eliminate the explosive plays that ultimately sabotaged the team’s chances in its two biggest games last season.
Known for implementing a complex scheme designed to create confusion for opposing offenses, it appeared his own players were often the most confused on the field late in the season. With seven starters and several more significant contributors returning with a year of system experience under their belts, Knowles is already beginning to see the fruits of last year’s ups and downs.
“I do see it clicking,” Knowles said of his players in year two. “I see players in the right spots, players understanding more of why I call a certain thing. I expect all our older guys to be able to answer that. Not just what, where, or how but why? What’s the purpose behind this call? They’re able to see that now.”
Throughout Thursday’s practice, the defensive units were split between two fields, creating some interesting combinations during drills. Knowles said the goal of having two units practicing at the same time is to get more players into game-like situations and see how they respond.
“You go through a lot of walk-throughs, and a lot of teaching in the summertime,” Knowles said. “Now, you’re trying to see how they react when things move quickly. The only way to get better is to play. So the more reps, the better. So that’s why it’s good to split it up.”
Defensive notes from camp
• Kourt Williams, now entering his senior season, is now listed as a linebacker after previously working at safety. Knowles said Williams is a guy the staff always felt would excel when playing closer to the line of scrimmage, and “the time was right” to make the move ahead of this season.
• For now, Ohio State’s starting safeties appear to be relatively set. Ja’Had Carter, who transferred from Syracuse during the offseason, practiced with the first-team defense on Thursday as the starting adjustor (free safety). Lathan Ransom joined Carter in the starting secondary as the bandit (strong safety), and Sonny Styles ran with the ones as the nickel safety.
• Junior cornerbacks Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock were the starting corners during Thursday’s practice, and Knowles confirmed afterward the two are expected to start as it currently stands. Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun also saw time as a starting corner during split sessions.
• Sophomore linebacker C.J. Hicks is being utilized in the “Jack” hybrid role, which Jack Sawyer filled last season. After shelving the position this spring, Knowles has identified the uber-talented Hicks as a player who can fill the position as both a linebacker and pass rusher. Knowles said that as camp progresses, Hicks will work with defensive line coach Larry Johnson more often to develop his pass-rushing skills.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.