COLUMBUS — Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg had a built-in a connection to Al Washington.
Eichenberg was once committed to Boston College. Washington was a three-year starter at Boston College before becoming one of the top linebackers coaches in the country.
The loose tie to the Northeast was a starting point for Washington and Eichenberg. It also showed Washington how Eichenberg handles himself as he begins his ascent up the Buckeyes linebacker depth chart and possibly into the starting lineup this spring.
“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.”
Eichenberg hasn’t become elite yet since he hasn’t even seen the field for meaningful reps at Ohio State. But he’s on that trajectory.
And now as the Buckeyes go through spring camp without projected starter Dallas Gant, who has a foot injury and will be unavailable until at least summer, Eichenberg is in line for plenty of first- and second-team reps at one of the linebacker spots. Simply put, it’s a big spring for the former four-star prospect. The next few weeks provide a massive opportunity for Eichenberg to show why he belongs on the field in September.
“What do I expect to see out of him this spring? No. 1: leadership,” Washington said. “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.”
Eichenberg is often lost in the shuffle of the Buckeyes linebacker room. Four seniors were at the top of the depth chart last season. Three juniors were waiting behind them for playing time. Now those three become seniors, and they are expected to play a bulk of the snaps. Even in the last two seasons when blowouts occurred, the unit was so log-jammed that Eichenberg had trouble finding the field.
That shouldn’t happen again, especially as Eichenberg continues to surge up the depth chart and draw praise from Washington. The only question remaining: Can he play at an elite level in big moments? He hasn’t had the chance to do so, and the Buckeyes didn’t play much football last season as a team. That question needs an answer this spring.
“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,” Washington said. “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.”
Washington and Eichenberg could have just shared a loose connection between current and former Boston College players. Instead, Eichenberg is impressing Washington within the linebackers room.
Tommy Eichenberg is proving he should be a factor in the lineup this fall.