Defense Looking To Bounce Back After Loss

There were several key players out due to injury for the OSU defense yesterday, which didn't help matters for them in the jersey scrimmage. Afterwards, defensive end Simon Fraser, LB A.J. Hawk, and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder discussed the status of the OSU D.

It's good to play well, obviously, and individual statistics are important, for sure, but Saturday's scrimmage at the sun-drenched Ohio Stadium was ultimately about one thing.

"I'm a little bitter," said Simon Fraser with a slight chuckle after his Scarlet team lost the jersey war in a 72 to 53 defeat. "As a defense, we pride ourselves on being the ones that are the foundation of this team. We believe that defense wins championships and if we're not wearing the scarlet jerseys then there's something wrong there.

"It's about pride and about tradition and anybody that wears that scarlet jersey knows that they're the people that went out and won the jersey scrimmage and also had the upper hand on the upper side of the ball. That's something that we've got to go out there and fix and we take it kind of seriously but in the end it's all fun and games. But we want to get those jerseys back this fall and that's what we're going to do."

Excuses are not part of the equation for Fraser, but having a healthy defensive line intact for the scrimmage would have, no doubt, aided their cause. Marcus Green, David Patterson and Joel Penton donned the yellow vests without any pads during the scrimmage.

"It kind of hurts us a bit," Fraser said. "We've got key guys like Marcus and David inside that are missing that have experience, but I think it's given people like Sian Cotton and Brandon Maupin quality time in practice and reps because they need it, they need to get their feet wet and this is good for them. So it kind of hurts us overall in trying to establish a complete front four, but it's getting these younger guys going and maybe we can have the same rotation as we've had the past three years."

It's all about the depth. There seems to be enough of it to go around, especially at linebacker and even in the defensive backfield as well, but after losing Will Smith, Tim Anderson and Darrion Scott to graduation there is a definite need to replenish the stock and upgrade the line up front.

"The good thing is right now we're building depth, that's what we're doing," said Mark Snyder, the unit's new defensive coordinator. "These guys that are still in the ‘who' stage hopefully by the end of fall camp they'll be out of that ‘who' stage."

What exactly is the ‘who' stage?

"Who am I? What do I do? Where do I line up? What's my job responsibility? We're still at that stage," Snyder said. "Step one, ABC's we're in A with a lot of guys. If we can get them to step B, the ‘where' stage, then we're going to have a lot of depth.

So the fall is when the ‘where' stage begins?

"I hope. That's what we're reaching for, that's what we're working for right now, to get to that point where everybody knows where to line up and what to do and they can play aggressively," Snyder said. "And then we will have that depth we just talked about."

The cast of characters will change but the defense should ultimately be recognizable with the dominating units of the past couple of years according to the coordinator.

"We tweaked a couple of defenses but we're going to do the same things that we've been doing," Snyder said. "We've slowed the pace down quite a bit right now, again because of our youth and our maturity, trying to get those guys through that ‘who' stage, that A stage. So we've really cut back with what we're doing right now so that, at least, when that depth has to go in the game, we have a few defenses to hang our hat on and they know it, and they know how to execute it and they can do it fast. And that's what spring ball is for and that's what we're trying to accomplish now."

In the secondary, an early concussion sustained by Dustin Fox this spring has allowed players like E.J. Underwood and Ashton Youboty to get more practice at the corner positions and solidify the depth there.

"(Dustin's injury) is more of a precaution," Snyder said. "Dustin's played a lot of football games, and E.J. and Ashton and all of those kids need to get reps and so if he does get a concussion in the fall, those kids are ready to step in and play."

Snyder said that he's pleased with the play of Underwood and Youboty this spring.

"Those guys have had a good spring so far, they really have," the coach said. "I say that with caution because those guys have played. A lot of kids we have playing right now have not been in a football game yet and we would expect those guys to do that. They've played in football games for us, so they should be ahead of everybody else and they should be showing out a little bit."

And similar to the situations up front and the secondary, a key injury to Mike linebacker Mike D'Andrea has given more reps to two other veteran players, John Kerr and Anthony Schlegel, who toiled in obscurity on the scout squad last season after making a major splash at other universities two years ago. Both guys were tackling machines at their former schools. This single position will undoubtedly be the deepest and most hotly contested one in the fall.

Snyder was asked if he thought the Indiana Hoosier transfer was ready to help a bit this year.

"I hope so. It's early, but he's still learning the defense," he said. "But he does some good things. We sure hope he can contribute this year, no question. He's got a nose for the ball, and I think he's getting more comfortable in our defense, I hope. It goes back to reps. It all comes back to reps and feeling comfortable; he's still swimming a little bit right now. So I think once he gets it down he's definitely going to add some depth to our linebacking position and hopefully help on special teams."

And Schlegel already has a full spring under his belt at Ohio State after he transferred here from the Air Force Academy. Snyder said that Schlegel most certainly has a slight advantage over Kerr this spring.

"Absolutely, Schlegs has been here longer," Snyder said. "So he can play a little faster because he knows it a little bit better."

Another guy the defense would have liked to have used to an even greater degree during the scrimmage was linebacker A.J. Hawk. He was cleared to play in the scrimmage after being restricted in his contact through the spring. Hawk had surgery on his knee after the season after being hampered by it over the last few games of the season last year.

"They told me today they would let me go three series, so that's what I did," Hawk said. "It's not the first thing I've done, I've been practicing but not as much, not the whole practice. But it's important for me just to get out there and get used to a little game-type situation. That's the closest we can come to the a game. They let us go here a little more here than we do in the spring game even."

Snyder knows that's hard to keep Hawk out of action but he knows what he's getting in from him.

"A.J. always wants to go, he's a competitor, but he's played a lot of football," Snyder said. "The one thing that he needs to do is lead when he's not in there and he's become a little more verbal leader. He's doing okay. There's no sense in going in there and doing anything crazy and getting him hurt."

Injuries aside, after giving up an 80-yard touchdown run to start the scrimmage, Snyder, a former defensive assistant to Jim Tressel back at Youngstown State, thought that his troops that were out there played well during the scrimmage, for the most part.

"I was a little disappointed in our tackling and we had too many penalties and we didn't have enough turnovers," he said. "To win this scrimmage, the way this format is setup - I've been through it eight or nine years now - if the defense doesn't get turnovers and doesn't tackle it's hard to win the scrimmage. We just didn't get enough turnovers today, and I didn't think our tackling was very good. And I was a little disappointed in our penalties, we had more penalties than the offense had and that's unheard of. So a couple of things that we're going to have to work on this last week are tackling and cutting down the penalties."

Overall, Snyder said it has been a productive spring for the defense and there's still another week to go.

"I wished we had another week after next week," he admitted. "I wish we had another couple of weeks, coaches always wish that. We've had to go a little slower in putting things in because of our youth. When that depth does come in to play and we have to use the young guys, we want to know that they can go in there and play five, six, seven defenses and know them inside and out and have something to hang our hat on when they're in the game."

Snyder himself already feels at home in his new role as the unit's coordinator.

"I like it. I enjoy it. I'm comfortable with it," he said. "Once the ball is snapped it's like it's always been. It really is. Functionally on game day we haven't changed anything other then I'll be making the calls and Mark (Dantonio) won't be calling them down to me to tell me what to signal, I'll just be down there signaling them. Everything is else is pretty much going to stay the same."

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