The Ohio State linebacking room was so veteran-heavy the last couple years that it's been hard for younger players to get on the field. But with 2020's four starters having moved on to the NFL Draft, and with an injury to senior Dallas Gant that will keep him out of action this spring, linebackers coach Al Washington is looking for his guys to take a big step forward.
One such player that probably doesn't get enough attention is redshirt sophomore Tommy Eichenberg.
Eichenberg played high school ball for legendary high school coach Chuck Kyle at Cleveland powerhouse St. Ignatius High School. He was not an extremely highly recruited player coming out of high school, but he was a defensive star for one of the premier prep schools in the state of Ohio.
In fact he might not even be the best player in his own family. His older brother Liam was an All-American and 3-year starting left tackle for Notre Dame the last few seasons.
At one point, Tommy Eichenberg had committed to playing college football at Boston College where he would have continued to receive a similar Jesuit education that he had for four years in high school.
As it turned out, it was that initial commitment to BC that connected Eichenberg to Washington, who once starred for the Eagles at linebacker. It's pretty clear that the two are cut form the same cloth, so to speak. There is a blue-collar nature to the way they both attack preparing and playing/coaching football, and they've formed a close bond.
I asked Washington on Thursday what he likes most about Eichenberg and what he hopes to see from the third-year Buckeye this spring. You can watch his response in the video at the top of the page.
“He works so hard,” Washington said. “So much of being great at anything starts with effort and passion. Tommy loves football. He loves it. He loves being at Ohio State. Tommy was a guy coming out of high school who was committed at one point to Boston College. That’s my alma mater. So I say that just to highlight the fact that he wasn’t always a blue-chip guy. He has always had a chip on his shoulder. He’s always had things to prove, that attitude.
“That’s what makes Tommy an elite player. That’s what’s going to make him an elite player. I won’t give him that title yet. He’s trending that way. He’s trending in that direction because of that chip, that sense of purpose, that sense of drive.”
Calling Eichenberg an elite talent might not resonate with Buckeye fans yet, because he hasn't been able to get on the field much. But that appears to be more circumstantial than a reflection of his ability. And with Gant currently injured and nothing set in stone for the upcoming season, Eichenberg has a great opportunity in front of him.
“What do I expect to see out of him this spring? No. 1: leadership,” Washington continued. “He’s got to lead. He’s got to be a guy who leads by example and leads by communication. We talk about leadership in our room. You have to be seen, you have to be heard and you have to be felt. A lot of times, they don’t feel you until they first see you and hear you. For Tommy, that’s what I expect to see. The second thing is to become a technician. So much of what we ask our guys to do, scheme is important and you have to execute in the structure of the defense, but there’s individual one-on-one matchups where technique has to show up.
“You look at this whole duration, this whole period. We’ve had a lot of time to develop our bodies. But we haven’t had a lot of time to play football. So for these young guys, they didn’t get spring ball. They didn’t get summer camp, so it takes reps, it takes those experiences to really become more of a technician. So I expect Tommy to, in this whole spring, to become better technically, fundamentally from the ground up. The last thing I’ll say is he’s hyper-competitive. It shows up in the classroom. He competes in the classroom, competes on the practice field, competes on the field. I expect him to continue to go in that direction. I love Tommy.”
In a position group that feels wide open right now, and given the lack of reps available to younger/less-experienced players over the last 12 months, I don't think it's out of the question that a guy like Eichenberg emerges into a more promising role.
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