Bringing the Silver Bullets Out of the Ashes

chris ash

The hiring of Chris Ash as the new defensive backs coach, and also co-defensive coordinator, was done in stealth like fashion. There was little buzz, and by the time it arose the hire was made, all in about 48 hours. But the lingering question on every member of Buckeye Nation is this… When are the “Silver Bullets” making their come back? And is this Chris Ash the guy to help bring them back?

Background
Ash is a relatively young coach who hails from a small town in Iowa. He is only 40 years old, but is viewed as one of the smartest minds in the college game right now. Ash got his first break at Iowa State as the defensive backs coach, where he worked with Tom Herman for a couple of years. He then moved on to San Diego State before joining Bret Bielema in Wisconsin for 3 years, and then followed Bielema to Arkansas.

In his last year at Wisconsin, and this past season at Arkansas, Ash was named the co-defensive coordinator. Ash has always coached defensive backs since his graduate assistant days, so there should not be any unfamiliarity with the position he will be taking over at Ohio State.

Statistics
Ash has statistically improved every single pass defense he has taken over. This past season Ohio State ranked 112th in pass defense which was bad enough for second to last in the Big Ten, only to be out done by the Hoosiers. Ash inherited an Arkansas pass defense that was 113th in 2012, and got it up to 73rd in 2013. He also had Wisconsin’s pass defense up to 4th in country in 2011, and 18th in the country in 2012 respectively. Ash will be a welcomed remedy for this Buckeye pass defense that looked lost and confused by the concepts they were asked to run and execute.

Philosophy

What to expect against the run: Ash likes to have a very aggressive run defense which will not be much different from the Buckeyes current philosophy. Ash puts a great amount of pressure for his interior lineman to occupy blockers and allow his linebackers to flow immediately down hill. He also likes to drop his strong safety down in to the box to either cut off the back side cutback, or fill the alley on stretch plays. Ash’s concept in run defense is very basic and effective. He explains exactly what he expects in the video below.

What to expect against pass: This is where Ash will leave his mark at Ohio State. Ash is known for his use of the Tampa 2 defense. The Tampa 2 defense is a form of Cover 2 in which each man in his zone has a specific landmark to get to in his drop. In Ash’s Tampa Cover 2 he likes to align his corners 5 yards off of the receivers and jam or re-route the #1 receiver on both sides of the field, and then release the receiver in to the next zone. So throw a small celebration Buckeye fans, it will be rare to see the corners lined up 7-10 yards off of the receiver any more.

However, just because the corners are jamming the receivers does not mean they are playing man. They are jamming to re-route the number one either inside or outside, not turn and run with the receivers like they would in man coverage. If they re-route the receiver inside then the corner, after the receiver takes three steps in, will pass off the receiver to the Will linebacker’s zone. If they re-route the receiver outside, it is vital for the corner to flatten out the receivers route and push him as far towards the sideline as possible.

The corner will then ride the receiver 7-10 yards up the field, watching the quarterback the whole time, to protect the weak spot in cover 2 – the sidelines between the corner and safety. Once the corner has escorted the receiver in to the safeties zone he will direct his attention to the flats. This is where Ash wants to direct all of the aerial traffic. Ash’s philosophy states that he is more wiling to give up a 0-5 yard gain in the flat rather than a 25 yard gain down the sidelines. In order for that to happen effectively the Buckeyes will need to sure up their open field tackling, and more importantly improve their pursuit angles, which Ash spends a lot of detail on.

The linebackers in Ash’s scheme must be athletic and fundamentally sound in their drops. The mike linebacker will be asked to create depth in his drop to fill the space left above the linebackers and below the two high safeties. The Mike will then follow the quarterbacks eyes and shoulders and break on the ball as the quarterback makes his decision to throw. The Will and Sam linebackers will be responsible for covering the seam for 7-10 yards, in a back peddle, and then sitting down to cover the curl and hook areas in the zone. Therefore, the outside linebackers will have to be very fluid in space. If the quarterback throws to his check down in the middle of the field or the flats the Sam and Will backers will need to get out of their drops and drive on the ball.

Tendencies
Ash’s Tampa Cover 2 will only be seen in passing situations such as 3rd and medium to 3rd and long. Since Ash did spend several years in the Big 12 he has adopted sub packages to combat the spread attacks and read option game as well. In fact, Tom Herman was quoted in 2012, after the 21-14 overtime win at Camp Randall, as saying that Ash “out-coached” him from a preparation and player execution standpoint. Herman stated that Ash barely blitzed on 1st and 2nd down and had a shift for everything the Buckeyes wanted to do, just out of Wisconsin’s base defense.

Even though Ash likes to keep things simple with his base 4-3, he will not be a coordinator who stays in it against teams like Indiana. Ash is a very smart and flexible coach that keeps things extremely simple for his players. In my opinion, Withers and Fickell tried to get too fancy with asking players to pattern match the wide receivers and read their routes. Ash simply asks his players to get to their drops, read the quarterback, and make the tackle.

Another thing that I noticed with the coverage last year was the 8 player drops. That is rare in Ash’s coverage. In his dime package you will only see 3 down lineman, but expect the nickel, dime, or strong safety to be blitzing. Ash generally plays only 6 or 7 in coverage which allows for consistent 4 and 5 man pressures. Ash also coaches to play the ball, not the man, so I expect the face guarding techniques against deep balls to disappear, which in my opinion led to the Buckeyes losing a lot of one on one deep balls.

Here are a couple of tapes of Ash fulling explaining his pass defense concepts. WARNING: These tapes are over an hour long and do contain a lot of advanced vernacular, but Ash does a good job of explaining what he means.

http://brophyfootball.blogspot.com/2013/01/chris-ash-packaging-pressures-against.html

http://brophyfootball.blogspot.com/search/label/Chris%20Ash

Summary
I believe Ash will prove to be a greater hire than Larry Johnson Sr. Ash is one of the brightest young defensive minds in college football. His defenses have always been sound, aggressive, and have always improved throughout the year. Ash may not wow many kids on the recruiting trail, but it was important for Meyer to get a fundamentals oriented coach in to the defensive meeting rooms to begin to patch up the flood works that was the Buckeye defense last season. If Ash succeeds, do not expect him to be around long, he is already on a lot of other programs radar as a head coach candidate. The Buckeyes got a good one in Chris Ash, hopefully he can help to begin the return of the Silver Bullets.

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  1. […] coordinator to bolster the under-performing Buckeye defense. Our own Ronnie took a look at Chris Ash’s defensive philosophies and he likes what he sees, especially what the Buckeyes will do against the […]

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