Junior safety Tyvis Powell is heading into his second year as a starter at Ohio State, but co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash never misses an opportunity to let Powell know how he can improve.
“Me and him still go at it every day. I thought we would be past that, but…” he said, his voice trailing off with a laugh. “He expects so much from me. Even if it’s the littlest thing, nothing is ever going to be perfect with him. I respect why he’s doing it because he doesn’t want us to become complacent. There’s a lot of people that talk about how Tyvis and Vonn could be the best duo at Ohio State, and he knows those type of things. It’s basically making sure we live up to that and don’t read our press clippings and become complacent with what we did last year.”
Ohio State’s pass defense improved tremendously from 2013 to 2014 upon the arrival of Ash, but the famously demanding assistant wants to see his unit make another jump into the top pass defense units in the country. The Buckeyes drew praise for the their lockdown defense in the postseason, but some inconsistent performances earlier in the year prevented them from finishing in the top 10 in passing yards allowed.
“Everybody talks about our last three games as the best defensive games ever but nobody talks about the first 12 games,” Powell said. “We’re just trying to make sure we play the whole season like we played the last three games.”
With Powell and fellow returning playmaker Vonn Bell roaming the secondary, it’s a good bet that Ohio State will improve on last year’s mark. Bell finished with a team-best six interceptions, while Powell accounted for four picks.
“I think the combination of Tyvis and Vonn Bell can be an outstanding safety tandem back there, as good as there is in the country,” Ash said. “They’re two guys that really have great chemistry out there. They communicate well together, they play extremely hard, they’re in the right spots all the time and they cover each other up. If somebody is wrong in his assignment before the ball is snapped, the other one gets it corrected. That’s really what these guys do.”
Behind them, sophomore Erick Smith is another valuable talent who could have an increased role this season after a solid freshman debut. Powell noted in the spring that there would be little difference if something happened to him and Smith needed to step in. The other spot in the two-deep is occupied by Cam Burrows, who has been hampered by injuries thus far in his career.
NotesA playmaker with a flair for the dramatic, Bell finished 2014 with the team lead in interceptions. The former five-star recruit was named a preseason All-American by ESPN.com and serves as the anchor for the defensive backfield.
NotesBurrows is a talented player but has been hampered by injuries thus far in his college career. He exited training camp trailing Damon Webb for the top spot at nickel back after missing several practices due to injury.
NotesPowell has yet to match Bell’s interception rate, but he’s made some of the biggest plays in each of the last two seasons. His game-saving interceptions against Michigan in 2013 and Alabama in 2014 makes you wonder what he has in store for 2015.
NotesSmith appears to be a budding star, and he helped justify his lofty recruiting ranking by playing his way onto the field in 2104 and snagging an interception. Powell said Smith could step in for him if necessary and provide a seamless transition.
NotesHooker might have more raw talent than any safety on the team, but it’s just a matter of refining it for a guy who didn’t play football until his junior year of high school. He drew praise from teammates and coaches in the preseason for his improved play, so it appears he’s turned a corner there.