Three Things to Watch: Pre-Season Storylines for the Buckeyes D

Silver Bullets

You all know the stat, 24-2 over the past two seasons. For the majority of fan bases around the country that would be more than acceptable (yes I’m talking about you Michigan). But for Ohio State fans, the agony of the 2 losses tends to stain our memories more than the 24 wins that predated them. Why? Because it was not only that we lost those games, but how we lost those games. For years Ohio State has prided itself on playing tough, fast, “silver bullet” defense. The type of defense that produced multiple All-Americans, multiple NFL draft picks, and more importantly multiple national championship appearances.

Those glory days seem to be a fading memory. As glory fades it has been replaced with the nightmares of multiple busted coverage’s, missed tackles, an Orange Bowl loss, and the most haunting, a Big Ten Championship defeat. However, hope has arrived in the form of Chris Ash, Larry Johnson Jr., a plethora of young talented players, and the 2014 season. Let’s take a look at some of the top story lines you should keep an eye on heading in to the 2014 season for the Buckeye defense.

Will Talent Overcome Inexperience?

This Buckeye defense is loaded with talent and future NFL draftees thanks to Meyer and his staff’s relentless recruiting efforts. However, there will be cause for concern, as several of the incoming players will be looked upon to fill depth early on. In the back seven there will be a total of 2 seniors (D. Grant, C. Grant) and 4 juniors (C. Williams, D. Bogard, A. Reeves, J. Perry) returning in the two deep following fall camp. The other 8 spots will be occupied by sophomores or freshman, in my opinion. For the two weakest parts of this defense last season, that has to be a major concern for co-coordinators Chris Ash and Luke Fickell. Ash and Fickell will have to rely heavily on the leadership skills of the 6 upper class-men, who will receive playing time, to bring the young Bucks along quickly in their maturation process.

There will not be many, if any, true freshman starting this season, however they will have to be prepared to step up in the instance of an injury or poor play. The loss of Christian Bryant last year proved to be a lesson of how valuable leadership is to a team. While Powell did an admirable job stepping in, it was obvious at times he was not ready to embrace that role. After a heavily scrutinized 2013 campaign, things may only get worse in 2014 if inexperience shines through over talent and potential.

Will the Secondary Rise from the Ashes?

Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has taken over a very talented, yet inexperienced secondary. He has been working diligently to not only introduce his scheme, but also familiarize himself with his new personnel. Ash has brought in a new, and much simpler man coverage scheme that should help all of his young Bucks to think less and play faster. Last season the secondary often looked confused with what coverage was being called, and also what their responsibilities were in that specific coverage. The coaches could never establish a base defense that worked best for the defense. The result of that uncertainty led to changing schemes mid-week during the season and causing further confusion among the staff and players.

Ash hopes to erase those issues and start fresh with a simplistic and clear approach. However, in order for his scheme to be executed properly, he will need to address a couple of questions. For starters, who will start opposite of Doran Grant? Secondly, who will start next to Tyvis Powell at safety? Finally which safety will be the one voice on the field that everyone has confidence in? Powell seems to be the early favorite, but someone needs to solidify themselves as the quarterback of this young unit.

Keep an eye out for my post, coming up soon, of the defensive backs preview. I will address what I believe should be the answers to those three major questions. If Ash can answer these questions early in camp, or even by week 2 or 3 of the season, then the Buckeyes should be in good shape as they push for a Big Ten crown.

Is there One Clear and Coherent Message/Scheme?

While not many know for sure whether Fickell and Withers had philosophical differences, or did not communicate well, one thing was apparent, neither seemed to be on the same page. The constant mixing between cover 3 and cover 4 during the season left players confused. The indecision on whether to play aggressively or not frustrated not only the fans, but also Coach Meyer. The overall inconsistency left many scratching their heads as to what the co-defensive coordinators were really trying to accomplish.

With the arrival of new coaches Chris Ash and Larry Johnson Jr., Coach Meyer wanted to ensure there would be a clear voice, and definite purpose on his team this year. Meyer’s concern about his staff’s unity was brought to the forefront this off-season. He enrolled his coaches in unit leadership courses, and did his best to ensure that everyone was on the same page going in to spring camp.

Ash and Fickell have reportedly been working well together in practice, but the pressure has not been put on yet. It will be interesting to see if they stick to their guns during a rough patch of play this season. Or will the waffling and same uncertainty we saw last year come creeping back in time to bite the Buckeyes again? Ash, Fickell, and Meyer seem hell bent on maintaining consistency and unity, and also not repeating last years mistakes. Their commitment to that should lead to a clearer and more purpose driven defense in the 2014 season.

Comments

  1. Uncertainty about this Buckeye defense definitely has me worried, but I think the way the schedule sets up, with Navy and Virginia Tech playing mostly conservative, running attacks should give the young Bucks a chance to get their sea legs and comfortable with the new coaches and schemes.

    I just hope they survive healthy and intact after the blasted chop blocking massacre waiting for them against Navy.

    • I’m thankful that the coaches have the whole off-season to prepare for that Navy triple-option. I’m really scared about the Virginia Tech game. Maybe I’m a bit of a lunatic, but that VT front will really really test the Buckeyes young offensive line. Devin Smith will have to play the game of his life against Fuller who is a better CB than Dennard IMO. This new Texas Tech transfer coming in for VT will be able to sling it more accurately than Logan Thomas probably could. This game and at Penn State scare me the most this season.

      The Navy game SHOULD serve as a great warm-up, but with young kids its hard to tell.

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