Jim Knowles was tasked with turning around Ohio State’s defense into a top-10 unit in the 2022 season. While the Buckeyes missed that mark after some late-season struggles, the defense maintains the potential for a jump in Knowles’ second season as DC.

On Tuesday, Knowles met with the media as Ohio State heads into the spring session for the 2023 season. He especially touched on a pair of former 5-star prospects and their outlook for the year ahead.

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As for Jack Sawyer, Knowles announced the third-year defender will concentrate exclusively at defensive end this season. Last season, Sawyer was experimented with at Knowles’ hybrid “Jack” position which is a mix of DE/LB.

Despite tying for the team lead with 4.5 sacks and adding 6.5 TFL, Knowles felt Sawyer’s progress was stunted by the hybrid position. We’ll see if Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau can combine to produce an elite pass-rushing duo for the Buckeyes this season.

As for CJ Hicks, the 5-star linebacker in the 2022 recruiting class arrived with big expectations in Columbus but did not see the field much as a true freshman. Knowles expects Hicks to see a lot of progress this spring and is bullish on the LBs career outlook, but Knowles does not have a current timetable of when Hicks will play a larger role.

Some of the delays to Hicks’ playing time is the emergence of linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers last season with Cody Simon also providing veteran depth at the spot. Fortunately, Knowles was positive of Hicks’ handling of minimal playing time last season, so hopefully he prepares and is ready when his number is finally called.