COLUMBUS — After a disastrous season a year ago that forced a handful of changes from head coach Ryan Day, the Ohio State defense is enjoying a resurgence toward the top of college football this season as one of the nation’s best units through eight weeks.
And while there can be no shortage of credit assigned to various individuals for their roles in making it happen, few players are more responsible for the return to respectability than senior linebacker Tommy Eichenberg.
Since turning in 17 tackles in a record-setting Rose Bowl performance that earned him the game’s Defensive Most Valuable Player honors to end last season, Eichenberg has emerged as one of Ohio State’s steadiest and most productive defensive players. His 33 solo tackles and 57 total tackles both lead the team by a wide margin, and his 2.5 sacks are second only to Mike Hall Jr.
Last week, Eichenberg added the second interception of his career and his first-ever pix-six at any level of football when he picked off a pass from Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras and returned it 15 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. For his efforts, Eichenberg earned a host of weekly accolades this week including the Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week, and the national recognition continues to pile up for him with every performance.
But perhaps equally as important as his statistical production this season is Eichenberg’s leadership of the defense, albeit in a more reserved and action-based approach. Eichenberg is a man of few words and displays a particular level of focus in seemingly everything he does, whether it be in speaking with the media, interacting with his coaches, or ensuring his teammates are ready to play.
“I do it by my actions and talk when I need to talk,” Eichenberg said of his leadership style during preseason camp.
Jim Knowles, Eichenberg’s position coach and the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, describes his interactions with Eichenberg during practice as containing a lot of “grunting” from the linebacker, offering some insight into Eichenberg’s never-changing approach to the game.
“What you see is what you get with him. He’s clipped with me, too,” Knowles said of Eichenberg earlier this season.
While Eichenberg is hardly one of the more vocal leaders on the team, that’s not to say his ability to get through to his teammates suffers, however. That much is evident in his selection as one of six Ohio State captains prior to the start of the season, an honor decided by his peers.
As Day said on Tuesday, the examples Eichenberg sets through his actions are more than enough for others to gravitate toward, and when needed, Eichenberg certainly isn’t afraid to speak up.
“He’s just so consistent and solid … Quietly is probably not the right word, but when no one’s watching, he has a strong voice. I’ve heard it, I’ve seen it, and when he says something, people listen,” Day said. “He’s not one who’s going to be out front barking at everybody, but you know when he’s in the room and when he’s on the field because he has a strong presence.”
And sometimes, even if for just a fleeting moment such as recording the first pick-six of his career, Eichenberg will even become a little demonstrative on the field, albeit in his own style.
“We got a little smile (from him),” Day said on Tuesday when asked about Eichenberg’s reaction to the pick-six. “I saw a little smile. I don’t know if he’ll admit it or not, but I saw a little smile creek. And to see him celebrate in the end zone, that’s about as much (excitement) as you’re going to get from Tommy.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.