In Year 2 at linebacker, Ohio State's Steele Chambers better understands defense and is making more plays

In Year 2 at linebacker, Ohio State’s Steele Chambers better understands defense and is making more plays

The first interception of Steele Chambers‘ college career came last year, helping to seal a 26-17 win against Nebraska. The first-year linebacker picked off quarterback Adrian Martinez with 56 seconds remaining in the game, catching a deflected pass and dropping straight to the ground for no return.

In Saturday’s 49-10 win against Rutgers, Chambers got his second career interception. This time, the ball was tipped by defensive end Zach Harrison at the line of scrimmage and Chambers made the pick before returning it 12 yards.

Had Chambers been able to make one man miss, that interception might have been returned much further, potentially even for a touchdown. While most linebackers are happy to just get their hands on the ball, Chambers spent his first two seasons at Ohio State as a running back.

“It felt terrible,” Chamber said of the play after the game. “I didn’t know what to do afterwards. I haven’t had the ball in my hand in like two-and-a-half years or something. So I just kind of ran to the sideline and ended up getting tackled by the quarterback.

“I got made fun of a lot because, I mean, that was kind of my position. My whole job a couple years was to make people miss and I couldn’t make the quarterback miss. It was the quarterback who got me, so that was pretty embarrassing.”

Among those who let the linebacker hear it for his interception return was his former running backs coach with the Buckeyes, Tony Alfordsaying on Tuesday, “I think it was about maybe 20 seconds after his interception, I was like, ‘This is why you’re at linebacker.’”

defensive coordinator Jim Knowles also got in on the fun, saying, “I did kind of bust on Steele after the game. I said, ‘I thought you were running back here before I got here. No wonder they moved you to linebacker.’”

Despite the struggle to return the interception for more yards, the play reflects Chambers’ development at the position. After playing linebacker and running back at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Georgia, Chambers wanted to begin his college career on offense. At the time, there were Ohio State defensive coaches who thought he would be better at linebacker, but he started on offense even though there were conversations about linebacker being in his future if things did not work out at running back.

Steele Chambers was in the right place to make the play for his second interception (Photo: Dan Harker, 247Sports)

As fate would have it, the Scarlet and Gray running back room became a crowded place and Chambers received only 28 carries over his first two years on offense. He made the switch to linebacker before the 2021 season and started to see his playing time increase near the middle of the year.

But Chambers admitted that he was often reacting and using his athleticism to make plays last season. Another offseason of being a linebacker has helped him establish confidence in reading his keys and understanding the position.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” Chambers said. “Especially just like all the stuff in the offseason, getting with coach Knowles, getting with Koy (graduate assistant Koy McFarland). And just going over the defense, just understanding how to be a better linebacker in general, just outside the scheme. I think that was really big for me and just getting me a better player.”

This season, Chambers has established himself as a starter alongside Tommy Eichenberg in Knowles’ two-linebacker system. Although he’s rotated out some, Chambers has been on the field for the majority of the Buckeye first-team defensive snaps.

“Just playing more and understanding what it takes to be a linebacker,” head coach Ryan Day said of what he’s seen from Chambers this season. “There’s just different things, whether it’s in protection or attacking protection on blitzes. Whether it’s in coverage, whether it’s in the run game, whether it’s out in space in the box, there’s just so many different things you have to do. You’ve got to take on linemen, you’ve got to go cover tight ends, running backs. You’ve got to zone drop, read the quarterback’s eyes, you’ve got to read screens. I mean, there’s so many different job descriptions for a linebacker and the more he’s done them, the better he’s been.”

On Saturday, Chambers played the best statistical game of his Ohio State career. He had a career-high 11 total tackles, as well as two tackles for a loss.

The interception, while not returned well, is an example of Chambers understanding defensive responsibilities better this year and not just reacting to what happens. He was where he was supposed to be on the play and was therefore in the right spot after the ball was tipped.

“Steele’s position and where he was on the field was very well planned,” Knowles explained. “And he knew exactly where to be. I mean, not that you’re predicting the tip ball but when you talk about areas on the field and where to be. Yeah, I mean it is satisfying when it all comes together.”

This is reflected in other areas of Chambers’ game as well. He’s often in the right place because he has a better understanding of where that right place is on any given play.

Chambers, and the other linebackers, have benefited from having Knowles coaching their position this year as well. Because he is also the defensive coordinator, Knowles sees things from a big-picture point of view when talking about this defense. This allows, as he puts it, for his linebackers, who spend more time with him than others on the team, to “see the forest through the trees” and understand this defense on a higher level.

It also puts additional pressure on the linebackers to perform.

“He’s on her ass about the grades after the game and stuff,” Chambers said. “For us, it’s just really cool because we’re hearing what we need to know exactly from the source. And I mean, he created the defense himself. I don’t know how he did it. But, I mean, if the dude that created the defense he is teaching you, then, I mean, you have to listen to him.”

So far this season, Chambers is second on the Buckeye defense with 30 total tackles. He also has four tackles for a loss and a sack this year, as he’s making the right plays for an improved group.

What’s next for the Buckeyes? Make sure you’re in the loop — take five seconds to sign up for our FREE Buckeyes newsletter now!

Want the latest scoops and news on the Buckeyes? Try our 7-DAY FREE TRIAL AND BECOME A BUCKNUTS SUBSCRIBER!

The Rutgers game was yet another sign of Chambers’ improvements and arguably his best game for the Scarlet and Gray.

“I felt like, definitely from last week, I’ve definitely improved,” Chambers said. “Just trusting the defense and knowing my assignments. I think that was one of (my best games).”

Now he just has to work on his interception returns.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *