The summer offseason is in full swing, and Lettermen Row is trying to survive it with our annual Position Week breakdowns. By the time all nine units and coaching staff at Ohio State have been covered, training camp and media days will nearly have arrived, and the return of football in the Horseshoe will be just around the corner. We’re continuing with our seventh positional week with a unit that returns its biggest stars: the Buckeyes linebackers.
COLUMBUS — Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg teased his potential at the end of the 2021 season when he set a Rose Bowl record with 17 total tackles.
Then, last season, he proved his prolific postseason performance wasn’t a fluke. Again and again.
Eichenberg piled up 77 solo tackles, the fifth most in the country, to the tune of second-team All-American honors. Plus, he was at the forefront of a new Ohio State defense, piloted by coordinator Jim Knowles.
Knowles explained back in May that the goal is for everyone on the defense to know where the ball’s going to end up based on the call he makes and the play the offense runs.
“With a guy like Tommy,” Knowles said, “you saw that accelerated. He was a guy who really picked it up. I use the word ‘Gretzky’ all the time. ‘Hey, Wayne Gretzky, why are you such a great goal scorer? It’s because I didn’t go where the puck was, I went where it was going to be.’
“So, Tommy, he figured it out a little more quickly maybe than some other guys. That if I made this call, and they ran this play, the ball was going to end up over here. That’s how you play fast. So when you get 11 guys who can do that, that’s how you get better.”
Eichenberg’s understanding of Knowles’ scheme helped him break out in 2022. Lettermen Row is reviewing his top-three performances from last season, as well as an honorable mention.
Week 4 vs. Wisconsin
Eichenberg recorded a season-high 15 total tackles at Penn State later in the season. But, according to Pro Football Focus, he also missed a season-high four tackles in that game, a game in which defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau stole the spotlight as the catalyst for four Buckeyes takeaways. There’s no asterisk on Eichenberg’s 14-tackle outing under the lights against Wisconsin in Week 4, though. He was a big part of an Ohio State blowout victory that saw the Badgers muster a combined seven points in the first three quarters. Eichenberg logged seven solo tackles, including a pair of tackles for loss, plus two pressures, per PFF. He wreaked havoc in the Wisconsin backfield, and he played a critical role in holding Badgers running back Braelon Allen to 67 yards on 15 carries through three frames. Eichenberg was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.
Week 1 vs. Notre Dame
What a way to start the season. Eichenberg kicked off the 2022 campaign with a pair of sacks in a 21-10 win over Notre Dame. He made life difficult for then-Fighting Irish quarterback Tyler Buchner, at one point in the first quarter shooting through the gap and leveling him for a loss of seven yards on 3rd-and-4. He also brought down Notre Dame running back Audric Estime behind the line of scrimmage. Eichenberg rounded out the night with nine total tackles, six of which were solos. When all was said and done, his three TFLs versus the Irish tied for his season high. Eichenberg received Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
Week 12 at Maryland
“Tommy Two Thumbs”: That’s the nickname Eichenberg earned down the stretch of last season for playing with a cast-covered, injured hands. The pain didn’t prevent Eichenberg from making an impact. Take the Maryland game, for instance. He delivered 13 total tackles, most notably 10 solo stops. Additionally, the Cleveland native generated at least two pressures for the eighth time last season. There was one sequence in the third quarter where Eichenberg missed a tackle on Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s 26-yard scramble, yet, three plays later, responded with a perfect wrap of Tagovailoa on 3rd-and-6 to force a punt. That “never give up” play style helped solidify Eichenberg as one of the best linebackers in the FBS last year, even when he wasn’t 100%.
Honorable Mention: Week 8 vs. Iowa
Eichenberg turned in four games with 13 or more total tackles, and three of those outings took place after the bye week. He didn’t reach that mark against Iowa, however, he did help the Buckeyes open up what was initially a low-scoring rock fight with the Hawkeyes. The 6-foot-2, 239-pound St. Ignatius (Cleveland) product capitalized on a bad pass from Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, taking an interception deep in Hawkeyes territory a speedy 15 yards to the house. Eichenberg’s pick-six transformed a sluggish, 19-10 affair into a 26-10 game before halftime. The Buckeyes went on to outscore Iowa, 28-0, in the final two frames, and Eichenberg finished with seven total tackles, including five solos.