COLUMBUS – Everyone wants to say pass defense was the biggest problem Ohio State’s football team had last season, but coach Urban Meyer disagrees.
The Buckeyes ranked No. 110 nationally in pass defense. They allowed more touchdown passes, 31, than anyone in the Big Ten. Opposing quarterbacks completed 61.8 percent of their passes. And OSU’s defense gave up nine TD passes of 30 yards or more.
So, what’s worse than that?
Playing scared, timid and soft, according to Meyer. He thinks he saw too much of that last year and didn’t do enough to prevent it.
Changing the outcome starts with changing attitudes, he said.
“That’s too easy. It was more complicated than that,” Meyer said when asked if last year’s struggles on pass defense short circuited Ohio State’s national championship hopes.
“I felt I slipped as far as demanding and teaching the culture we want. The culture we want is not playing scared, timid and soft.”
However Meyer defines the problem, expect OSU to look different on pass defense next season.
“We blew the whole thing up and started over,” cornerback Armani Reeves said Thursday.
Specifically, the Buckeyes have played man-to-man press coverage, with defensive backs making as much contact with receivers as the rules allow,100 percent of the time in spring practice.
“We’re just pressing up every single time and going at it,” Reeves said.
Another change that appears significant is the addition of Chris Ash as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach.
There is great curiosity about what Ash, a former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin and Arkansas, will bring to OSU. And it’s not just fans who began wondering about that when his hiring was announced.
Coaches check up on players on the Internet and social media, and players do the same about coaches.
“When I heard he got hired, I went straight to YouTube. I watched all the things from Wisconsin, and I really liked it. I was excited,” Reeves said.
Cornerback Doran Grant, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season, is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield.
Right now, Reeves is playing the other cornerback position, the one held by Bradley Roby last season. In a nickel defense (five defensive backs), Reeves moves to the nickel position and redshirt freshman Gareon Conley plays cornerback. Eli Apple could also be in the competition.
Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell were the starting safeties until a knee injury early in spring practice sidelined Bell. That moved former cornerback Cameron Burrows up to a starting safety’s role.
Powell, like Reeves, says the No. 1 message from the head coach on down has been to be more aggressive on defense.
“The biggest difference is we’re running to the ball and if you don’t, you’re going to know about it,” he said.
• With Braxton Miller sitting out spring practice after shoulder surgery, Cardale Jones has taken the majority of the snaps at quarterback.
“He’s clearly the No. 2,” Meyer said.
• Linebacker Josh Perry, a starter who had a learning on the job look much of last season, has made an impression on Meyer. “Josh Perry has turned into an Ohio State linebacker … about. He’s not quite there yet,” the OSU coach said.
• Ohio State will have a new kicker, a new long snapper and a new holder this season. The kicking competition between early enrollee Sean Nuernberger and walk-on Kyle Clinton is far from settled, special teams coach Kerry Coombs said.
But the fact he talked more about Nuernberger than Clinton could indicate which direction it is headed.
“I think the pressure buckles him (Nuernberger) every now and the. He’s a high school senior,” Coombs said. “At times it’s overwhelming. I don’t think it will be a problem in the fall. We’re going to throw everything we can at him now so that after spring he will be more accustomed to it.”
• OSU’s offensive line is still a question mark, too, with four new starters.
“I’m concerned about our offensive line,” Meyer said. “I keep looking for Mewhort, Linsley, Hall and Norwell, but they’re not out there anymore.”
• The injuries that have kept Miller and Bell out of spring practice are the most significant ones, but the torn meniscus that required arthroscopic surgery for redshirt freshman receiver Jalin Marshall was also a setback, Meyer said.
“He was really making a move (up the depth chart) and got hurt,” he said.