CHICAGO — Ohio State’s defense allowed a staggering number of big plays last season and the hope is that different coaches, new schemes and a different attitude will change that this football season.
Maybe the Buckeyes’ coaches should bring Jordan Fuller’s parents in from New Jersey for a chat with the team if they want to make sure the players are highly inspired to fix the problems.
Fuller, a senior safety, who led OSU in tackles last season and was second-team All-Big Ten, also was a first-team Academic All-American with a 3.8 grade point average as a business major.
In between taking questions about the Buckeyes’ 2018 defensive struggles at the Big Ten football media days on Thursday, he talked about one of the things that set him on a path of success in the class room as well as on the playing field.
Fuller called his academic achievements “just goals I’ve had.” And he remembered seeing good grades being emphatically encouraged in the house he grew up in.
“Growing up I remember my parents and my brother having a not so pleasant conversation about his grades one time. Actually, it was two times. After that I was like I knew what I had to do. It started off with feeling bad if I got a B and it just became what it was,” Fuller said.
Even though Ohio State finished 13-1 last season and was Big Ten champion, its defense never was what it was from 2014-2017. The linebackers and defensive backs struggled to contain plays before they turned into big gains all season.
Most of the players in the back seven of that defense are back, but defensive line coach Larry Johnson was the only one of last season’s defensive coaches asked to join Ryan Day’s staff when he took over from Urban Meyer.
Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley will be co-defensive coordinators and Hafley will also work with the defensive backs. Al Washington will be the linebackers coach and Matt Barnes will be special teams coach and also help with the defensive backs.
“I think it was just a bunch of mental mistakes and maybe not trusting the guy next to you. That’s where a bunch of stuff came from. It was something different every time. It was really hard to pinpoint. But, obviously, that needs to be fixed as soon as possible,” Fuller said about last season.
“We’ve been working really hard. The scheme is a little different. That has helped,” he said. “I feel like we’re on an upward trajectory as a defense. Guys are playing confident with swagger and really having a lot of fun. It’s great to see.
“The staff is different and the scheme is different. It’s really just trusting the guy next to you that he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be so you won’t have to make up for him and also do your job. You can’t play in the Big Ten like that. You’re going to get exposed. That’s the main thing we need to shore up, just trusting each other to be in the right position and going and playing hard.”
Studying hard is also important for Fuller.
“First you have to care, you have to care a lot,” he said. “I’d say I’m solidly smart but also I work hard and I time manage and I understand I can’t do this because I have to do this (other thing) first.
“It became a joke in my house that I would always be on my couch studying when somebody walked in. It would be a joke, ‘Oh, there’s Jordan on the couch.’
“I never thought academic All-American stuff because I felt that was a bit lofty but I started doing well and my academic counselors were like you could be in the running for this. I just did my best,” he said.
Fuller says last year’s struggles and the criticism the defense took will be motivation this season.
“The scheme will be different but we remember last year and we still will have that chip on our shoulder. The chip is big. People are counting us out and that’s fine,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0451.