Talented D-Line Could Let OSU Go Aggressive

Ohio State's defenses the past few years were very, very good, but they weren't aggressive in the way fans like to see defenses. The pendulum could swing a little bit toward a more attacking style this year, as defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said a deep and talented line should allow him to make a few changes in 2012.

When constructing a good football team, Urban Meyer knows one thing is true.

"If you want to have a bad football team, have a bad D-line," he said. "You can be average in some other spots and kind of hide them. But it's over if you have a bad defensive line. You have no chance."

Luckily for the first-year head coach, that doesn't appear to be an issue both now and in the future. Meyer – who rode dominating lines who hassled quarterbacks all the way to the 2006 and '08 national championships at Florida – has made recruiting the D-line a priority, and he also happened to inherit some pretty darn good players when he arrived at OSU.

Adding last year's standout recruiting class – which features the likes of five-star prospects Tommy Schutt, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington – to a group that includes All-America candidates Johnny Simon and Johnathan Hankins means the 2012 group has a chance to be special.

Even Meyer realizes it, too, noting that a return to health from "Leo" end Nathan Williams – a possessor of 26 career tackles for loss and 11 sacks in mostly part-time duty over three seasons – could push the group to elite status.

"If we get Nathan Williams back, I would say this is in that category," he said, referring to the lines that led the Gators to the two championships. "If he doesn't, I think we'll still be good, but I just think Nathan brings that much sting to you, and also experience."

New defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is excited to have those weapons at his disposal in his debut season in his position. He spent the 2005-10 seasons as the co-defensive coordinator alongside Jim Heacock before becoming head coach a season ago, so he has experience drawing up a game plan, but his initial season in the pilot's chair allows him the fortunate position of having those riches up front.

As a result, he can implement a game plan that could make Ohio State fans happy. Heacock was known for a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that produced some of the best defenses in school history, but blitzing wasn't necessarily his favorite strategy. He would send extra players in well-timed circumstances, but "aggressive" wasn't a word that could be used to describe his plan in a lot of games.

On the other hand, Fickell is not shying away from that direction. No one expects the Buckeyes to blitz on every play, but there will be more opportunities, at least, for the team's defensive line to use its natural talent to try to create havoc in the opposing backfield.

"We want to be aggressive," he said. "We believe our strength of our defense is going to be up front. We'd be crazy to not allow them to be aggressive and do some things and play off of them from behind them, but we're going to play to our strengths."

The new defensive staff – including co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers – also approves a more attacking approach, Fickell said. Withers, who coaches the team's safeties, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs have implemented an off-man coverage strategy that takes advantage of both the team's talented DBs and the group of pass-rushing linemen that should limit the amount of time opposing quarterbacks have in the pocket.

"(Withers) brings a lot of things that they did even in the NFL and at North Carolina as well," Fickell said. "It's an aggressive style. It's the ability to play off sometimes in the back end and still allow those guys to have great vision and play on the football."

The overall approach is being met with positive reviews from the team's players.

"(Fickell) just emphasized being more attacking and not being so steady or just watching the play," defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins said. "Let's go attack and do our jobs. Just make plays, get upfield, get some penetration on the pass and run. Just get penetration, deflect balls and cause havoc for the quarterback and help out the back end."

Fickell said he likes the team's strength on the edge and on the line but still expects the middle of the field to take a little time to settle in. That's because there's a young linebackers group with a combined eight career starts as well as some talented safeties who still have to prove their big-play chops.

The linemen know, then, that a lot of the team's early success depends on their ability to do their jobs, and they're looking forward to the challenge.

"I feel like if our front starts the game out well and we play well it'll help out the back end and help guys in the secondary, but it always starts in the trenches with the offensive and defensive line," Hankins said. "That's the way the game goes."


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