Press Coverage Not About Physical Contact

The Ohio State defense is playing a more aggressive, press coverage scheme this season, but that doesn't mean they need to be jamming receivers at the line.

New co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash was brought in during the offseason to overhaul the Ohio State pass defense, implementing a press-coverage system designed to challenge wide receivers. Defensive backs have been playing much closer to the line of scrimmage than they were a year ago, but haven’t been physically contacting the wide receiver they are matched up with very often.

That’s because the style of play the Ohio State secondary is playing may not be appropriately named, Ash said.

“The misnomer with press technique from a typical fan point of view is ‘you’ve got to get your hands on them,’” Ash said. “Well, no, you don’t. You do if they’re within striking distance of you, but you don’t want to overextend your body and basically lunge to be able to get your hands on a wide receiver.

“You want to be able to move your feet, keep the wide receiver within the frame work of your body and if you’re able to do that and contact is able to be made with both hands, great. But if you’re not then you’ve got to move your feet and you’ve got to be able to open your hips and run.”

That is all part of the system that Ash has put in place this season and one the Buckeyes continue to adjust to. Despite all the questions, returns through five games are largely positive for the pass D.

The Buckeyes are allowing just 6.1 yards per pass attempt, tied for 20th best in the country and third best in the conference behind Minnesota (5.5) and Nebraska (6.0). They are tied for 12th in the country and first in the conference with nine interceptions. Ohio State, though, has just played five games while every team in the country with more picks has played six or seven. Minnesota and Northwestern each have nine picks also, but have each played six games.

“We aren’t making too many mental errors like we were … after the Virginia Tech loss,” safety Tyvis Powell said. “We had a bunch of mental errors (then), and there’s hardly any (now). Everybody’s going out there and executing the calls now.”

It seems the pass defense has adjusted to the new scheme, though the big gains in the Cincinnati game (touchdowns of 60, 83 and 73 yards) and Maryland contest (one 60-yard completion) have gotten a lot of the attention.

Despite the name, the problems with the press style of coverage come when guys are too eager to make contact with a receiver.

“When you watch corners or teams that implement a lot of press technique there’s not a lot of actual hand-to-hand combat,” Ash said. “You don’t play press technique with your hands, you play it with your feet. You want to be able to move your feet and cut that receiver off and make him fight for his release.

“When defensive backs get overly aggressive with their hands at the line of scrimmage and don’t move their feet, they lunge, get overextened, that’s when you are going to get beat. The last thing we can have in our coverage structure is a corner that doesn’t have vertical control on a wide receiver. How you lose vertical control is a corner that reaches and lunges and tries to play with his hands more than his feet.”

So while press coverage inspires images of a cornerback with both hands on a wide receiver’s body, that’s not what the Buckeyes new scheme is all about.

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