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Ohio State DC Jim Knowles likens C.J. Stroud to Eli Manning in diagnosing defenses

The Columbus Dispatch logo The Columbus Dispatch 3/31/2022 Bill Rabinowitz, The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State has had only six spring football practices, but that’s been enough for new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to reach far back and pretty high in finding a comparison for quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Most of Knowles' work so far against the Buckeyes’ high-powered offense has been in 7-on-7 drills. At times, he said, it has been “extremely, extremely frustrating” because of the difficulty in outwitting Stroud.

“I remember when I was at Ole Miss with Eli Manning,” Knowles said, referring to 2003 when he was the Rebels’ linebackers coach. “He was the same way in that guys that are good – and C.J. is – they can diagnose.”

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Every defense has a vulnerability, and Knowles said Stroud is adept at exploiting it.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud listens to coach Ryan Day during practice. © Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud listens to coach Ryan Day during practice.

“We’re trying to go off rotations and try to deceive the quarterback and show one picture and end up in another,” he said. “I think he does a great job of just figuring that out and getting rid of the ball, because there’s always a hole.

“I talked with him today. He likes what we’re doing because it challenges him, I think.”

Stroud, a third-year sophomore, was a Heisman Trophy finalist last year after throwing for 4,435 and 44 touchdowns in his first year as a starter.

As impressive as Stroud's 2021 season was, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson believes he can become even better.

“I think he's got a much higher ceiling than you've seen,” Wilson said. “I think he's unbelievably good. There's a high ceiling to be a special player.”

Ohio State coach Ryan Day pleased

With Ohio State approaching the midway point of spring practice, coach Ryan Day said he believes his team is on track for accomplishing what he wants by the end of it.

“I think overall we're right where we need to be right now,” Day said. “But when you’re right where we need to be in practice six in spring, you've got a long way to go. I don't think we're ahead. I don't think we're behind. I think we've just got to keep swinging.”

The Buckeyes had two unpadded practices before spring break and are in their second week back. The amount of contact has started to ramp up now with the spring game on April 16 just over two weeks away.

Ohio State is more experienced at most positions than it was a year ago, but Day said it’s not as if they have multi-year veterans everywhere.

“They have a year under their belt, and there’s still a lot of football for them to learn,” he said. “But they’re not doing everything for the first time. There’s a reference point to go back to going into the season, as opposed to just the total unknown of going into it, which I felt like we had last year. When you have that, you have doubt in your mind.”

Smooth transition for Chip Trayanum

Knowles said he’s pleased with the progress Chip Trayanum has made at linebacker after transferring from Arizona State, where he was a running back.

“I've seen nothing but good things out of Chip,” Knowles said.

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A year ago, Steele Chambers made a successful transition from running back to linebacker. Knowles said experience on offense can be invaluable.

“They just have a feel,” Knowles said. “We talk about the escape hatch. Wayne Gretzky said he doesn’t go where the puck is. He goes where the puck is going to be. These guys that are converted running backs, they can get a feel for where the running back is going to end up, so it’s pretty neat. Chip is doing great, and so is Steele.”

Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at brabinowitz@dispatch.com or on Twitter @brdispatch.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State DC Jim Knowles likens C.J. Stroud to Eli Manning in diagnosing defenses

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