Moeller Defies Labels, Defines Defense
By Tony Gerdeman
Tyler Moeller is entering his sixth season at Ohio State, and despite playing in just 28 games over his first five seasons (and starting just four), there might not be a more important player for the Buckeyes this season if they want to reach their potential as a defense.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With the offense in a state of flux at the quarterback position, it will be up to the defense to make life as easy as possible for the other side of the ball, and Moeller could be the key to making that happen.
His 46 career tackles belie his importance to a defense that has routinely been one of the nation's best for the better part of a decade. If Tyler Moeller stays healthy, this defense could be even better than last year's defense, which finished fourth in the nation.
What makes this assertion even more outrageous is the fact that Moeller's role on this defense isn't easily definable.
Ohio State actually defines him as the team's “Star”, which is the hybrid linebacker/safety spot that has come into vogue over the last decade or so, but what he is and what he does isn't so easy to categorize.
“We call him a 'Safebacker',” said safety Orhian Johnson when asked if he considers Moeller a safety or a linebacker.
“Tyler plays the Safebacker position. He's just so athletic that you really don't know where to put him, but as long as you can get him on the field, you know that he'll do his job.”
Moeller notched 4.5 tackles for loss in four games last season before being injured early on in his fifth game against Illinois. If we expand his averages out over thirteen games, he would've led the team last year in tackles for loss. In fact, the only Buckeye last year to have a higher percentage of his tackles occur behind the line of scrimmage was Cameron Heyward, and he was a 290-pound first-round draft pick who played at the point of attack.
Moeller isn't just a key, and he isn't just any key, he's a skeleton key. He can fit any lock the defensive coaches want to put him into. He is stout enough against the run and quick enough against the pass to allow Ohio State's most versatile defense to be it's base defense.
“I'm not really a safety, I'm not really a linebacker,” Moeller says. “I don’t really fit in to anything, to be honest.”
He may say he doesn't fit into anything, but the exact opposite is probably more apt. He fits into everything. He's like water. He takes the shape of any vessel into which he is poured.
Defensive coaches can ask their players to do any variety of things on any given play, and Moeller is the type of player who can do each and every thing asked of him. He may not have a traditional football position, but the way he plays the game is as traditional as it gets.
“I consider Tyler a football player,” said linebacker Andrew Sweat when asked whether he viewed Moeller as a safety or a linebacker.
“You can put Tyler wherever you want to put him, whether that be nose tackle or safety. Tyler will be around the ball and he makes this defense a lot better.”
A defense that doesn't have to change personnel is a defense that doesn't tip its hand to the offense. It's a defense that can disguise more attacks and more intentions. It is a defense that doesn't get put into as many mismatches, because the versatility that Moeller provides negates some of those offensive advantages.
Moeller ties the run defense together with the pass defense and makes them coexist. He is an emulsifier. He makes two separate components come together and excel as one.
The story goes that when Buckeye coaches were looking at high school tape of Tyler Moeller the prospect, they didn't really know where he would play on an Ohio State defense, but they were sure looking forward to figuring it out.
On signing day in 2006, defensive coordinator Jim Heacock mentioned Moeller as a linebacker who could also excel as a nickelback down the road. He probably didn't think that road would still be being traveled six seasons later, but it's to this defense's advantage that it is.
“Tyler Moeller is a great player,” Johnson reiterated.
“He's athletic, and no matter where the ball is, he's going to find it. Tyler will definitely be an asset to our defense.”
These were the same expectations that were on Moeller's shoulders last season as well, and he was living up to them prior to tearing his pectoral muscle and being lost for the year against Illinois.
Seemingly, more so than where will Moeller play, the questions have continued to be whether or not he is even ready to play.
“I feel fantastic,” answers Moeller.
“I feel 10 times better than I felt last year. I gained 15 pounds since this time last year. I'm stronger in the upper body than I was last year, and I feel great.”
But it's not just the questions about last season's injury that always come up, because he is still answering questions about 2009's head injury that, looking back, fortunately only cost him his season.
“I'm past that mental barrier. I'll be fine,” he answers.
“I can't worry about my head, and I can't worry about my chest because then what's the point in going out there? Because I'm not going to play the way I should play or I could play, so I'm not gonna really think about it. I'm just gonna play the way I think I play.”
That's exactly what the coaches want from him, to play the way he thinks he can play, and the way they know he can.
“I'm out there just to play,” he says.
“Whatever they think the best position to put me in to help the team, I'm excited to be in that position and I'll try to make all the plays I can for them.”
That's all they're asking of him, to be his usual controlled berserker self, a terror off the edge, and a destroyer in the flats.
His undefinable role on this team doesn't just take place on the field. As the most senior of seniors, Moeller expands his own role off of the field as well.
“Guys see him out there being competitive day in and day out on the practice field and the game field, it gives you something to look up to and it gives you something to go after and say, 'I want to be like that guy'," said linebacker Tony Jackson. "Tyler's hungry, he's getting after it, and we all need to get after it.”
If there's a reason that Moeller is hungry, it's because he has been waiting for this opportunity for the better part of five years now. His final season is setting up to clearly be his best, and his teammates can't wait.
"I can't imagine how good he'll be now that he's fully healthy," said Johnson
“Tyler Moeller makes this defense a lot better. He's a great player," said Sweat. "The 2011 defense will be a lot better with Tyler Moeller in the lineup.”
The mantra for the defensive coaches is that the best eleven play, and once you figure out who those eleven are, you figure out where to best put them. The best spot to put Tyler Moeller is simply anywhere on the football field, and he will take care of the rest.
The Ohio State coaches didn't just find one spot for him, they found several, and if the season goes as planned, labeling Tyler Moeller the “Star” is probably the label that will suit him best.
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