Jeff Hafley: ‘The Best Guys Are Going To Play’ | Ohio State Football

Isaiah Pryor, Baron Browning Ohio State Football Buckeyes

Ohio State was 10th in total defense in the Big Ten last season and ninth in yards per play allowed. And it’s a testament to the rest of the poor defense played in the Big Ten last year that OSU’s 25.5 points allowed per game was actually good for seventh.

It didn’t take a member of Mensa to know that Ryan Day was going to have to make some changes when he took over.

Day went out and hired four new defensive coaches, saying goodbye to linebackers coach Bill Davis, cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson, and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, as well as watching safeties coach Alex Grinch bolt to Oklahoma.

In came Greg Mattison and Al Washington from Michigan, Matt Barnes from Maryland, and Jeff Hafley from the San Francisco 49ers.

In bringing in an almost entirely new staff, Ryan Day also brought in four new pairs of eyeballs to assess the talent on hand.

Watching players like Brendon White and Shaun Wade begin last season on the bench caused many to wonder who else should be playing that isn’t.

If it was just about personnel, however, then there would have been no need to make wholesale changes in the defensive staff. Day clearly wanted something different from his defense, and now the coaches he brought in to make those differences will have a fresh perspective on who should and shouldn’t be on the field.

As one of two new defensive coordinators and the man in charge in the secondary, Jeff Hafley has to balance what he’s seen on tape with what he sees live throughout spring practice. Any preconceived notions will be outweighed by what he sees in practice.

How will Hafley go about putting his depth chart together this season?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Greg [Mattison] might have seen a little bit more because he’s played against Ohio State, and I’ve obviously studied the tape. I watched a little bit before I took the job. But for me, the best guys are going to play, and I mean that.

“I’ve started free agents over first-round draft picks. If I see a guy out working another guy, I mean, the whole room is going to see that. The whole defense is going to see it. So if that guy shows that he’s better, we’re going to get the best guys on the field, and I want guys to feel that way. It’s our job to play the best players.”

For Hafley, he is camping in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately section of the park. He’s watched tape from last year, and there were some bad moments. But last year was just a starting point. Literally. In last week’s first practice, it appeared that everyone who started last year was with the ones because they have to start somewhere this spring.

On day two, however, it was Baron Browning running with the ones at middle linebacker, and Tuf Borland with the twos.

The situation at middle linebacker is the one that probably gets the most attention because it was clear last season that Borland wasn’t 100% physically in his return from an Achilles tendon injury.

And just as Browning and Teradja Mitchell behind him have an opportunity to show Hafley and the rest of the defensive staff that they belong, Borland also has an opportunity to show how much further he’s come from last season’s laboring.

“I’ll always say, ‘I see better than I hear, just show me,'” Hafley said. “Put it on tape. Do the right things. Work. And then if you’re the best, you’ll play. And if it’s close, we’ll find a role for you. But that’s our jobs to do as coaches, get the best guys out there.”

The Buckeyes played more than just three linebackers last season, as Browning played quite a bit in nickel and also replaced Borland while he was out. Dante Booker got time, as did Justin Hilliard.

There’s enough talent here to find three starters, as well as players behind them who should be able to push for time, just as there are more safeties now than a year ago.

The options all over the field are plentiful, and Hafley has high expectations for the personnel overall.

Those expectations are also why he doesn’t foresee the defensive staff having difficulty in deciding who should be on the field and who shouldn’t.

“I think you’ve just got to spend time and turn on the tape,” he said. “I think that’s why morning workouts are important, and I think that’s why spring football will be important. It will give us the opportunity to do that, and I know we’re all very excited about that.”

19 Responses

  1. If we’re fans, we have to wait and see who the staff puts on the field and trust that they got it right. IF we see another crap storm defense like the one that got shredded by one of the very worst teams in college football again on opening day (Oregon State)………THE we should start building to a growl. If it happens 3 straight games……………..light the torches and storm the castle!

    Surely our resident writer won’t hesitate to ask the tough questions of the staff in pressers. 1 question in particular………..How many Brendon White’s do they have playing back-up?”

  2. 1. I agree with the out in front idea that “the best will play.” The problem with that is that not every guy is a superstar on the practice field. According to most insiders Brendon White never looked the part “all the time” on the practice field to be considered the best option.” Hell, Jack Tatum probably wouldn’t have started using that litmus test. Neither would have Jim Stillwagon or Van Ness DeCree.. Hard workers, but, sometimes they just didn’t look the part when the lights of the practice field was on them. It’s a good “starting point” saying the best will play, but when the lights come on and it gets real, Jeff better have the guts and intelligence to NOT hesitate to yank a guy who looks the part on the practice field but seizes up immediately after kickoff. Nor can he wait until something unfortunate, like an injury or suspension before he pulls the trigger.

    2. Tuf Borland had no business being on the field last year. They should have draped a RS on his shoulders. It’s NOT that he was playing hurt……………..the young man was playing injured. Go back through every game he played in Simple observation between last year and the back half of 2017, those are NOT the same player. In 2017 Tuf was a downhill wrecking crew who offensive players couldn’t block worth a damn, and almost never missed a gap assignment NOR took bad angles. 2018? He couldn’t GET to the gaps even IF his reads were right. That Achilles made him a liability because the power to get off blocks starts with the feet and lets the rest of the body follow. Last year he was struggling because his head was leading and his feet couldn’t take him to the destination. Schiano and Davis should have been fired LONG before the season ended by allowing an obvious “injured” player to play.

    If a guy is hurt, well, that’s normal. If a guy is injured, he has no business on the football field. It changes how he plays and in a MIKE (quarterback) position, it puts the entire defense in jeopardy.

    1. Unfortunately, Borland already used his redshirt in 2016.

      1. He could have sat and applied for a medical 6th year after his 5 years were up. 2018 isn’t going to look good on his resume’.

        1. You have to lose two years to injury to get a sixth, so they would have to come up with a season-ending injury in 2016.

          1. Sorry Tony but, those aren’t the guidelines for a Medical RS (medical hardship waiver). Had they sat Tuf in 2018 he most certainly would have been eligible. Heck, a player can play 3 games in a season, get injured and still apply for a medical hardship waiver. There’s never a guarantee it will be awarded, but in a case like Tuf’s and having to sit an entire year due to the injury, the likelihood is pretty high that it WOULD be approved. I know the general thought process concerning the stick in the mud concerning the time of a regular RS, but this injury occurred beyond his control afterwards. If the Ohio State Compliance Office is worth even half a hill of beans getting a 6th year of illegibility would be a no brainer.

            These are the regulations for a MHW

            Medical Hardship Requirements
            To be eligible for a medical hardship waiver, a student-athlete has to meet the following criteria:

            The student-athlete must suffer the injury during one of their four seasons of college competition or during the senior year of high school.
            The injury must be incapacitating. That means it must be a season-ending injury.
            The injury must occur prior to the start of the second half of the season.
            The student-athlete must not have competed in more than 30% of the season or three contests, whichever is greater.

            1. This is a pretty common misconception. “Medical Hardship Waiver” is not a sixth year. What you are pasting is the old rule for a “medical redshirt” after an athlete has played in a few games, which is now an obsolete rule with the new redshirt rule changes.

              Before the new rule, if a player played in one game, his redshirt was gone. However, if he was injured in those first few games, he could apply for a medical hardship waiver and not lose a year of eligibility. This is much different than being granted a sixth year.

              Here’s a c/p of what a sixth year would entail.

              An application for an extension of his five-year clock is much rarer and more difficult to attain. For an extension request to be successful, the institution requesting it on behalf of the student-athlete must prove that the student-athlete was deprived of more than one season of competitionfor reasons beyond his or her control. For example, a student-athlete could have been forced to withdraw from school for two years to help support his family or to care for an ailing parent. More commonly, the basis for an extension request is incapacitating injury. In cases of injury, the institution must show that the student-athlete suffered injuries or illnesses that prevented him
              or her from competing for two seasons. An example of a successful application of a football student-athlete’s five-year clock would be as follows:

              One of the reasons athletes are given five years to play four is in case they lose a year to injury. If that redshirt is used prior to an injury, them’s the breaks, so to speak.

              1. A normal RS season isn’t restricted in cases of injury. That’s only a part of the context for it’s use of 5 to play 4. At the end of his career a Compliance Department most certainly can apply for a 6th year of eligibility when a player has a season ending injury. That doesn’t mean that it will be granted, and maybe even it’s rare for it to be granted, but that option is still available. Hard to be approved……..yep, but not impossible. That depends on the mood of the NCAA official doing the evaluation.

                1. Tuf Borland redshirting as a freshman because he wasn’t deemed good enough to play is deemed “within his control” and so he would not be eligible for a sixth season unless he misses two seasons “beyond his control.” Here’s a good look at what is beyond and what is within.

         Circumstances Beyond Control. Circumstances considered to be beyond the control
                  of the student-athlete or the institution and do not cause a participation opportunity to be used
                  shall include, but are not limited to, the following: (Adopted: 8/10/94, Revised: 10/12/95, 7/30/10,
                  (a) Situations clearly supported by contemporaneous medical documentation, which states that a
                  student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate competition as a result of incapacitating
                  physical or mental circumstances;
                  (b) The student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate athletics as a result of a life-threatening
                  or incapacitating injury or illness suffered by a member of the student-athlete’s immediate
                  family, which clearly is supported by contemporaneous medical documentation;
                  (c) Reliance by the student-athlete upon written, contemporaneous, clearly erroneous academic
                  advice provided to the student-athlete from a specific academic authority from a collegiate institution
                  regarding the academic status of the student-athlete or prospective student-athlete, which
                  directly leads to that individual not being eligible to participate and, but for the clearly erroneous
                  advice, the student-athlete would have established eligibility for intercollegiate competition;
                  (d) Natural disasters (e.g., earthquake, flood); and
                  (e) Extreme financial difficulties as a result of a specific event (e.g., layoff, death in the family)
                  experienced by the student-athlete or by an individual upon whom the student-athlete is legally
                  dependent, which prohibit the student-athlete from participating in intercollegiate athletics.
                  These circumstances must be clearly supported by objective documentation (e.g., decree of
                  bankruptcy, proof of termination) and must be beyond the control of the student-athlete or the
                  individual upon whom the student-athlete is legally dependent.

         Circumstances Within Control. Circumstances that are considered to be within the
                  control of the student-athlete or the institution and cause a participation opportunity to be used include, but are not limited to, the following: (Adopted: 8/10/94, Revised: 10/12/95, 10/9/96, 7/30/10,
                  (a) A student-athlete’s decision to attend an institution that does not sponsor his/her sport, or decides
                  not to participate at an institution that does sponsor his/her sport;
                  (b) An inability to participate due to failure to meet institutional/conference or NCAA academic
                  requirements, or disciplinary reasons or incarceration culminating in or resulting from a conviction;
                  (c) Reliance by a student-athlete upon misinformation from a coaching staff member;
                  (d) Redshirt year;
                  (e) An inability to participate as a result of a transfer year in residence or fulfilling a condition for
                  restoration of eligibility; and
                  (f) A student-athlete’s lack of understanding regarding the specific starting date of his or her fiveyear
                  period of eligibility.

  3. It sounds very much like this coach has read the tea leaves and agrees with the “armchair quarterbacks” (EVERYONE who provides opinion or guidance on the site is an armchair QB, and some of them are right every now and then!) There is no question that there was all sorts of personnel mismanagement and lackluster coaching last season (I’m sure Grinch was just counting his money and eyeing the exit, for example). The new coach is RIGHT- the best players should play, not the favorite players or those who clearly don’t belong and need replaced. If the new coach means it, this is an immediate thumbs up. We will see.

    1. He put Baron Browning in either the Ones for a single solitary practice on day 2 of the spring practice “season”. He didn’t anoint Browning as Borland’s replacement. He didn’t listen to the armchair qb’s/coaches. It was one friggin practice. Everybody get a grip.

      1. YOU need to get a grip, Michael. YOU are the one talking about “anointing”, no one else. Since some of the comments seem to be bouncing directly off that oval between your ears, I’ll translate for you. You see, last year’s OSU defense was a train wreck, and most fans don’t like that. Those same fans want this thing called “improvement” ( I know it’s a big word, look it up). Most fans like what they are hearing from the new coach and hope it translates to field play. Got that ? (Nah, probably not- I tried…)

  4. You experts like Mr Perry,seem to forget Tuf Borland played on a half healed Achilles’ tendon. Mr Perry I doubt you could walk on that let alone run with any speed or lateral effectiveness. Mick Marotti says Tuf Borland is the toughest guy on the team. It sure as hell isnt Baron Browning. Everybody thinks he is the next Raekwon, bull shit. He hasn’t even proven he can play on the outside. It was proven last year, The Glove Man, Pete Werner, Urban and Bill Davis’s hero cannot play out there. He constantly took bad angles and made himself look good by tackling ball carriers from behind, Luke he had make-up speed. BS!!! He constantly messed with his gloves like he was getting ready to “take one yard”. Washington and Hafley and Mattison will determine who should be on the field, not you arm chair Coaches.
    If the coaches implement this new defensive scheme only two actual LB’s will be on the field with the hybrid.

  5. Tony, exactly…I’ve wanted this mindset for years…not just “the next man up” but the best man up.

  6. This sounds good. I will be able to take one glance at the defense come game 1 and know if this was real or just lip service…because if we dont have two new starting LBs, it was all B.S. Period.

    1. What if those returning starters play well though?

      1. If the starters from last year are the best we have then we are SOL.

      2. Rather they play “well” is not the litmus test…its whether they are the best. See, that sort of “moving the goalposts ” to accommodate guys you simply want to see play (for whatever reason) is exactly what keeps that Bama gap in play. It’s how Haskins starts 1 yr and goes top 10 and the guy he sat for is gearing up to coach.

        1. Sorry, when I said “well” I meant what if they are the best players this year? I don’t care who plays. I have to cover it regardless.

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