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You’re Nuts: Who has been Ohio State’s most surprising defensive player this season?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

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Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: Who has been Ohio State’s most surprising defensive player this season?

Jami’s Take: Ronnie Hickman

Ohio State’s defense has been full of pleasant surprises in the first half of the season, and for me, the most pleasant surprise of all has been safety Ronnie Hickman.

Hickman — who redshirted in 2019 and missed the second half of 2020 due to injuries — is now one of just two defenders to have started all six games so far this year, along with cornerback Denzel Burke.

When he was named the starter in the much-anticipated Bullet position, most people didn’t predict what a huge playmaker he would be this season. But midway through the season, the 6’1” 205-lb Hickman, who goes by the nickname “Rocket,” has emerged as a defensive standout.

His speed and ability to position himself in the middle of big plays has been a game-changer for the Buckeye defense, which struggled to find its groove early in the season. While his teammates struggled to find their confidence as a unit, Hickman has been a sort of glue that’s brought them together.

His 50 tackles make him far and away the team’s best tackler up to this point in the year. The next-best defender, linebacker Teradja Mitchell - a fantastic defender in his own right, has logged 33 tackles, 17 fewer than Hickman’s.

Additionally, Hickman has logged 32 unassisted tackles, more than double any other Buckeye. Mitchell comes in next at 14. Hickman also has 2 interceptions, including one 46-yard pick-six against Akron.

His impressive stats are the result of his ability to read plays, fly to the ball, and find a way to make the tackle. He brings a certain level of confidence to the Buckeye defense, and his ability to adapt to plays on the spot have contributed to his stellar work. He is, in a word - dynamic.

What makes it so pleasantly surprising is that almost no one saw him coming. Though it’s his third season, his injuries kept him from really showcasing what he could do over the past two seasons. In fact, most folks thought Craig Young was going to get the starting job until preseason whispers of Hickman’s name emerged.

Additionally, there has been so much talk about the Bullet position - a hybrid safety/linebacker position - that Hickman brings an added element of surprise in that he’s not only filling this long-awaited role. He’s filling it superbly.

Hickman has the ability to play almost any part of the field, making him an ideal Bullet on a defense that has benefited tremendously from his dynamic skill set and playmaking abilities. In the first half of this season, he went from relative obscurity to becoming a central figure on the defense.

Suffice it to say that as the rest of the season goes on, no one will be underestimating Ronnie Hickman.

Ultimately, Hickman has proven that now that he’s injury-free, he’s a versatile player who is capable of doing it all. His emergence as a defensive star was unforeseen by many, but especially given the anticipation around the Bullet position, it is a most pleasant surprise indeed.

Matt’s Take: Steele Chambers

Here’s the thing about surprises, they are very difficult to see coming, and while Ronnie Hickman and Denzel Burke (both of whom Jami mentioned) are obviously incredible stories in the Buckeyes’ secondary, you could at least have at least imagined situations in which they got on the field this season.

Coming into the campaign, we knew that the OSU DBs were a major concern, so a situation in which a couple of youngsters got onto the field and made a difference wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. But that’s where my pick comes in, running back linebacker Steele Chambers.

It wasn’t until just before fall camp that we even knew which side of the ball Chambers would be playing on. After starting his Ohio State career as a fairly productive — if seldom used — ball carrier, word and social media images began to circulate over the summer that he was working out on both sides of the ball and could return to his other high school position on the defensive side for the 2021 season.

When that move became official, I was hesitant, not because I didn’t think that Chambers was athletically capable of making the change, but simply because playing any position at the level expected at OSU generally requires a lot of physical and mental preparation. And given how bad the Buckeye linebackers have been in recent years — and by virtue of the fact that Chambers had spent years focusing on offensive responsibilities — I thought that it would be a stretch that he would be able to contribute as a LB, especially early in the season.

I was wrong. Chambers — while certainly not perfect — has been great. He is sixth on the team in tackles (despite still gaining playing time) and is ranked in the top-10 on the team in both tackling and pressure grades according to Pro Football Focus. Because Ohio State is still running out only two linebackers at a time — with the bullet floating between a LB and safety — Chambers is still battling to get on the field with the likes of Teradja Mitchell, Cody Simon, and Tommy Eichenberg. However, it seems pretty clear to me (and his mom) that Steele should at least be in the mix for starters’ snaps and at worst the first LB into the game after that.

Three months ago, if you had asked me what I expected from Steele Chambers this season, I probably would have said something like, “Man, I think he’s a really talented back, but I think he’s going to end up having a tough time getting carries because of how much talent there is in that room. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in the portal.”

But now, I am actively advocating for him to be on the field more, not as a running back, but as a linebacker. That is a testament to his dedication, effort, and skill as a player and the coaches’ vision of what he is capable of. So if that’s not a surprise, I don’t know what is.


Who has the right answer to today’s question?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Jami: Ronnie Hickman
    (18 votes)
  • 60%
    Matt: Steele Chambers
    (27 votes)
45 votes total Vote Now