With Ohio State's wide receivers and defensive front seven experiencing some ups and downs in the game at Minnesota, this made for a great week for Larry Johnson and Zach Smith to meet with the media. They talked about the state of those two groups and much more.
Larry Johnson, defensive line coach
Asked about depth being a concern for the Ohio State defensive line, he said it is more about a desire to make sure his top guys are in there in key moments. Sometimes then those end up being long drives. He doesn't want to sub just to sub. He sees Tyquan Lewis, Rashad Frazier and Mike Hill developing. Asked about Tommy Schutt, whom Urban Meyer described as disappointing to this point, he said he wouldn't call his season that. Schutt is adjusting to the shade position and therefore dealing with more double teams. He has been good the last three weeks in practice so playing time could increase.
Johnson is happy with his position group at this point. He loves the guys he has. The expectation were high, and they are meeting them. There is still growing to do. He acknowledged the rotation could be an issue with production because he wants to have his best guys in there at important moments. Sometimes those big drives come right on top of each other. Although they could be better, he's pleased with where they are now.
Indiana's Tevin Coleman is a great running back, and the Hoosiers' offensive line does a great job. Ohio State will have to contain him. Can't let him get north-south but rather must make him bounce the ball outside. He has great vision and great power with deceptive speed.
Regarding stopping the run, Johnson said, "You have to stay gap sound." Also Minnesota's David Cobb "is a really good running back. Watching the video tape he went through holes I don't know if anybody could run through. And he saw it." The Buckeyes need to stay in gaps, hold them until the back declares himself. "That was the biggest thing, just being disciplined in our gaps."
Asked if the more aggressive approach he brought with him from Penn State could be an issue as far as getting out of gaps and losing run fits, he said no. "Not necessarily. You've got to give them credit, too, now. Minnesota's a good football team. You've got to give them credit too now. They've got a good system and what they did they do well. We just need to do what we do best, fit gaps, be fundamentally sound and run to the football. That's defense and we're going to continue to do that."
Asked if Joey Bosa has room to improve he said you'd hope so. He has improved from last year and Johnson's focus is making sure that continues. He's still a young guy. He's played a lot but hasn't had a lot of battles yet. He's got a high ceiling but needs to continue being consistent. He is happy to see rushing the passer is not Bosa's only focus -- he's doing a good job against the run as well. He sees Joey Bosa and J.J. Watt as different players. Watt is a great player he saw in college but Joey the sky is the limit. He has great balance for a guy who is 6-5. They aren't comparable yet because Bosa is still on his way up.
Michael Bennett is having a very quiet great year because he's doing things a team player has to do, like holding a gap and not crossing the center's face. Johnson told him after the game Saturday that was his best game because of how he carried out his assignment. That prevented cut-back lanes. He's a team guy and doing great things for the defense. He has realized he doesn't have to make every play as long as he does his job.
Adolphus Washington is also coming along as he changes positions. He moved to three-technique in the preseason and now he is also playing nose guard. He played well Saturday and is continuing to develop his upside. Also improving: Donovan Munger. Johnson said he is a big fan of his and he is understanding what it takes to improve and become a special player. "I think he's a guy we'll be talking about down the road some day." Jalyn Holmes has a chance to be a really special player but he's adjusting to a new level of football. Things are faster and there is more to know. He likes the way he's developing and his focus in practice.
Zach Smith, wide receivers coach
Things like weather conditions matter when it comes to playing receiver, but they don't provide an acceptable excuse for lack of execution. The receivers were "not terrible" on Saturday, but they weren't as good as they had been the week before and both Smith and Meyer were looking for a step forward in their development. They have a mission to be the best, so they have to overcome obstacles. The group didn't block as well or execute in the passing game as well as it needs to. There were subtle mistakes, such as improper depth or timing on routes that can screw up the play and make others look bad. Nothing glaring though.
Ball security is always emphasized, so that won't be any bigger a deal this week than last despite some issues at Minnesota. Jalin Marshall lost a fumble while running the ball, but fundamentally he was doing everything correctly. He could have held it stronger, but the defender put a good hit on the ball. It is still unacceptable according to Smith for him to lose that fumble though.
When you are deeply invested in the success of the team and you make a mistake, it can get you down, but Marshall has to overcome that. He said Marshall faced more adversity after the game on social media than he did during the game. Smith called people saying derogatory things to him "hypothetical fans" and was sure to point out most of the response was "supportive and awesome." He talked to Marshall to make sure nothing festered, but he feels he will be fine. Marshall played well aside from the fumble and the muffed punt. Good comes with the bad on this level. He could always be at a place where no one notices him to cheer him when he does well.
Sounds like Smith talked Meyer out of replacing Marshall as the punt return man. Smith likes the aggression Marshall plays with, and his mistakes were not a result of that, so they are things that can be ironed out.
Smith said they still don't like to redshirt because if you're healthy it means you're not playing well enough and someone could come along who is better than you in a future recruiting class, but Michael Thomas really took to it. Sitting out last year fueled his hunger to get better and succeed.
Wide receiver James Clark is healthy but hasn't looked like the same guy he was before he got hurt last year. He is starting to improve, but they need to work on him getting the confidence to attack his development at the position. There is no time to wait.
Returning to the Big Ten Championship Game is what the Buckeyes get up and brush their teeth for every day.
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