Safeties Sweating The Small Stuff

As a player becomes more used to starting at the Division I level, the big things about playing the position became old hat as time goes on. That's where Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman excelled in 2007. Now with a year of experience under their belts, the two hope to add more to the OSU defense in 2008.

For a pair of first-year starters, Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman did pretty well at the safety spot in 2007.

Coleman ended up third on the team behind stars James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman with 64 tackles while adding a sack. Russell was one tackle behind with 63 while making seven stops for loss and three sacks. Both started for a defense that was No. 1 in passing yards, points and total yardage against.

Now, the two are among 12 players returning for Ohio State who started for the first time in '07 and expect to do so again in 2008. Like most of the others questioned, the big things they did on the field were aided by big changes – like becoming more comfortable on the field – as the year went on.

But safeties coach Paul Haynes would like to see his charges perhaps narrow their focus a little bit – toward some little things.

"I still think even Anderson and Kurt have a lot of learning to do football-wise, just the little things of being a great safety," Haynes said. "They still have a lot of learning to do."

That message is getting through loud and clear. When asked what Haynes was saying when it came to improving for 2008, Coleman nearly mimicked the earlier words from his coach.

"It's the little things," Coleman said. "(Haynes) said that we do the big things well, but it's all about the little things, and that kind of caught up with us at the end of the year. It's a little bit of footwork, alignments and just making that play when we get the chance. That's really what it comes down to."

Coleman made no mistake when he put in the line about making plays because that's where the Buckeye safeties were most lacking in '07. Between them, Coleman and Russell were involved in only two turnovers with each of them forcing a fumble. Neither recovered a fumble or snagged an interception.

That last fact was particularly disappointing to Coleman. The Clayton, Ohio, native was billed as a player with an instinctive ability to make plays, something he showed by blocking a field goal against Bowling Green as a freshman.

"I was so disappointed in myself last year," Coleman said. "I think I'm my biggest critic. You have to make big plays. I knew I didn't make them and this year I'm looking forward to it.

"I know what I can do and what I can't do, and I can make plays."

When asked what kinds of big plays he expected to get, he didn't hesitate.

"I think I'm more of an interception guy," Coleman said. "I had two chances at Michigan and Mario (Manningham) kind of broke up one of them. Hopefully I can get a couple in that game and make the plays."

The lack of interceptions from Ohio State's safety duo wasn't for lack of trying. The Buckeyes repeatedly found themselves in the position to come up with picks but dropped them more often than not. Russell himself claimed four lost interceptions while Coleman would say only that he dropped a few.

Those drops hearken back to another little thing – a lack of concentration.

"My 3-year-old can catch the ball," Haynes said. "Catching the ball is half concentration. She concentrates on it. Everybody thinks you have to be an athlete or you have to be talented to catch the ball, and you don't."

As a result, Coleman is making the elimination of those concentration lapses into his own mind game.

"You can look at it two ways: we made a pass breakup but we stopped an interception," Coleman said. "I always look at it negatively because that makes myself better."

Getting better shouldn't be a hard task for Coleman and Russell in 2008. Both spoke of how far ahead of where they were a spring ago, and each is part of a veteran group that has the Ohio State coaching staff preaching mental acuity and football intelligence. Those are skills that became sharper as last season progressed.

"You get real comfortable out there," Russell said. "The biggest thing with football is just making sure you're comfortable out there. That way you can focus on your job and make a lot more plays."

Yet again, it all goes back to making more plays by doing the little things. Big things could be in store as a result.

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