June 20, 2013

Ohio State secondary to shine in 2013

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Thanks in large part to the success of Ohio State's own head coach, college football offenses are evolving and moving away the formerly traditional I-formation sets. As a matter of fact, in a Big Ten conference that's largely known as one set in its ways, eight of the league's current 12 teams run some sort of variation of the spread offense.

As a result, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer and his staff find themselves attempting to similarly adjust their approach on the defensive side of the ball, so as not to be a step behind a problem that they helped create.

Ohio State is known for its great tradition of linebackers, but in the coming seasons, expect for fewer players to get a crack at becoming the next A.J. Hawk or James Laurinaitis. With more wide receivers finding their way onto the field in an effort to spread out opposing defenses, Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers said that subbing out linebackers in favor of defensive backs is nearly a necessity.

"You would like to be able to say you could play with your base defense and play against three and four wide receivers sets, but today's game has changed so much," Withers said. "Today's offenses are so much three and four wide receivers, you need more speed and athleticism on the field."

Last season, Ohio State's most relied upon defense was not one that featured three linebackers, but rather one that included defensive back Orhian Johnson at the team's nickelback/'Star' spot. Johnson's eligibility has since expired, but you can count on the Buckeyes continuing to rely on the position that serves as a hybrid between a defensive back and a linebacker.

Senior Corey Brown is the most experienced candidate in the race to take over for Johnson, but it was redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell who took the majority of the first-team reps at the 'Star' in spring practice.

"He's a bigger, more athletic guy who can play the slot, still be able to cover and still be physical," Withers said of Powell. "Orhian gave us something there last year, as far as coverage wise. We think Tyvis could maybe give us some of that, and we recruited some guys who can play in that spot."

One of the incoming recruits who Withers was alluding to is five-star safety Vonn Bell. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder has both the hard-hitting nature that and agility in coverage that the OSU coaching staff looks for in its nickelback, and while he'll come to college as a reserve, he may not have to overtake Powell to find playing time.

Throughout March and April's spring practice sessions, the Buckeyes also experimented with some dime packages on defense, leaving just one linebacker on the field alongside six defensive backs -- two corners, two safeties, and two nickelbacks. With Brown often manning the second nickelback spot opposite Powell, the OSU coaches felt that they were able to effectively cover four and five wide receiver sets, while not losing the run support that linebackers often provide.

"(Withers) wants to get as many defensive backs on the field as he can," starting safety C.J. Barnett said. "As long as we're able to prove to him that we can play and we can be out there, why not have six or seven defensive backs out there?"

While opposing schemes has played a large role in the Buckeyes' willingness to put more defensive backs on the field, so has the team's depth. As has been a a mantra of Meyer's for years, the best 11 players on either side of the ball will play, and this year a majority of those players could emanate from the secondary.

"Every team takes on a different style, and if you come watch practice and when you see us in the fall, it's a different team than last year," Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. "We've got to take advantage of the strengths of our players."

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