Pass D Could Be Firing Bullets Again

The 2013 season will be remembered for a school-record winning streak at Ohio State but also for the second-worst passing defense, statistically, in program history. That, of course, was a focus this spring, and with 15 practices down, the Buckeyes think they made big strides in making big fixes.

Was the Ohio State defense a group that could be called the Silver Bullets a season ago?

It would be hard to say yes given the way the team misfired, especially at the end of last season, when Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson had their way moving the ball against the Buckeyes.

So while the Scarlet and Gray was setting records on the offensive side of the football, the defense was relegated to being merely "the other unit," on the team, something that was hard to swallow given the defense the Buckeyes played from 2001-10 that was good as anyone in the country, as head coach Urban Meyer called it.

"When you come to Ohio State, we want to be considered the best," sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said. "As far as last year, we were not the best defense. Everybody knows that our offense bailed us out of a couple of games, and people come to the games now, and what do they talk about? Ohio State's offense. Back in the day, it was about the defense.

"So that's what we're trying to go back to – everybody going to the game to see the defense, not the offense."

So after 15 spring practices, the question is obvious – are the Buckeyes back to looking like Silver Bullets, especially through the air?

Well, after a spring game in which the offensive statistics were rather subdued – no touchdown passes through the air and a less than 50 percent completion rate – there was reason for optimism.

"I hope the reaction was that they looked quicker, they look faster, they trigger on the ball much better than they have in the past," Meyer said. "If that's your perception, that's mine as well."

A betting man, it seems, would not expect the Buckeyes to finish as low as 110th in the nation against the pass, nor would they expect to see things like Devin Gardner's 451 yards passing or Tajh Boyd's 500-plus yards of total offense.

That's because a new press quarters scheme – not to mention an infusion of young talent and the simplification of the mental side of things – appears ready to allow the Buckeyes to play confident, aggressive, perhaps even Silver Bullets-style defense.

"We're more aggressive, everybody making plays," Powell said after the spring game. "You saw in the first half, they didn't really complete anything. Everybody was where they needed to be. We had a couple of errors in the second half, but we're going to get that fixed and worked out, but as a whole, I'm very confident going into the season that we're going to be better than what we were last year."

That of course would be damning with faint praise, but there is reason to believe the Buckeyes might get back into the top half of Division I when it comes to the stopping opposing aerial assaults.

Everyone involved seems to have grabbed onto the new in-your-face scheme the cornerbacks and linebackers are playing in pass coverage. A year ago, the Buckeyes weren't ready to play such a risky and aggressive scheme, but cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said the team has gone to an exclusive press look to give the DBs time to be ready by the time the first game of the season comes around.

"It takes practice to play that way, and football is made up of a myriad of different schemes," Coombs said. "There's lots of different things, and it's not like you can just say, ‘Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go play.' It's the scheme. It's how everything fits together. I'm not blaming anybody, but that was not what we were doing. We did it at times. It wasn't our base concept. It was an adjustment.

"Now, it is our base alignment and we will adjust off of that. So, in order to do that, you've got to do it. Every single snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage, and that's the way we're going to learn it. We'll find out how we stack up when the fire comes around."

The scheme also allows the Buckeyes to simplify, much to the eternal gratefulness of the back seven on the team. Powell said the team would go into each game with 10 to 11 defensive calls, which oftentimes led to the players not being comfortable in any of them. Now, there are just six calls.

"That allows everybody to know what to do, what to look for and just trigger," Powell said. "Everybody is triggering on the ball and making plays. The playbook isn't that wild right now."

The idea is to allow the Buckeyes athletes – and if the recruiting rankings are any indication, Ohio State has some athletes – to play fast and use their instincts. That is especially true at safety – where sophomores Powell, Cameron Burrows and Vonn Bell are expected to vie for the two starting roles – as well as cornerback, where youngsters Gareon Conley and Eli Apple had great moments this spring.

Then there's second-year linebackers Darron Lee and Christopher Worley, both of whom showed they have the physicality and athleticism to play in space as walkout linebackers this spring.

"Darron Lee and Chris Worley are two examples of guys that have developed," Meyer said

Add it all up and Coombs said the Silver Bullet feel is back.

"We walk in a meeting room and it feels like that," he said. "We're out there practicing and it feels like that. There's just no pushback one player to another or any of that kind of stuff."

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