Meyer Answers Questions About the Defense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is typically more involved on the offensive side of the ball, but that could change a little bit this week.
Meyer was not pleased with the performance of the defense at Indiana, and plans to get a little bit more involved in Luke Fickell’s business as the Buckeyes prepare for Purdue this week.
He answered questions from the media about Ohio State’s defense during his weekly press luncheon on Monday.
Q. After looking at the film and spending yesterday I'm presuming on the defense, what did you think of the pressing issue, and what do you intend to do about it?
MEYER: Pressing issues, eliminate the big play. There were 14 plays in there, and I actually met with the entire defense and the defensive staff in there. Instead of just complaining and whining and making noise, we have to put a plan together. That's eliminate big plays. How do you eliminate big plays? Number one, 4 to 6 seconds, number two, missed tackles, and number three, leverage on the ball. Those are things, three things that we're going to really – not that we haven't coached hard, but you get what you emphasized. I'm not a big believer in screaming and yelling and throwing Gatorade bottles against the wall. Sometimes you have to do that, however, you fix what the problem is.
Case in point was Ohio State had a real, real issue with throwing the ball down field to a receiver that could catch it. We could have just screamed and yelled and complained and whined. There was a little bit of that, but there was a lot of work on trying to get efficient in throwing the ball down the field and now we're much better. We're still not perfect, but we're much better.
So my point is on defense, eliminate the big play. Eliminate – I mean, it's been absurd how many big plays we give up. How do you do that? Well, when it's missed tackles‑‑ number one, excuse me, is 4 to 6 finishing plays. 4 to 6 seconds is our mantra around here, finish plays. Missed tackles and some of the leverage on the ball, some of those cutbacks is because we have to re-teach leverage to some players that are relatively young or even some relatively old players that just need to be re-coached.
Q. How happy are you with the job the coaches are doing?
MEYER: I'm not happy at all with what's going on defense. That includes players, coaches, and I think we can all get better. It's a team effort. We've got good coaches, good players and we'll move forward and get better.
Q. I got a chance to ask Coach Fickell about this as well, but what does holding the freshman linebackers back in your opinion? Is it lack of knowledge of the defense? What's holding those guys back?
MEYER: Injuries. Camren was hurt, Josh Perry was hurt during the week. Those are two guys. There was one point on a Tuesday practice when I grabbed Zach Boren during stretch and said, hey, we're going to move you over because guys are limping. Shazier didn't practice, Kent Williams didn't practice, Josh Perry didn't practice. The two guys helping us on kicking game is David Perkins and Jamal, and they're having a hard time learning the defense. So we're in a little bit dire straits right now at that position.
Q. How much is the team shorthanded on defense do you think as part of what happened?
MEYER: I agree with you. The first one, how much of that is either inexperience, youth or whatever. That's a really good, solid excuse. It is. That's a solid one. And there is probably some truth to that, however, we don't deal in that (excuses). We deal in improving.
Zach Boren is a guy that there's something about game experience. There is something about being in the arena many, many times. Came here as a linebacker, and was kind of a test for the first four periods of practice that I watched. He changed the entire dynamic of practice, because so much of playing football is the leadership value too of what's going on. Who is the tough guy on the defense? Who is the guy that's going to stand up and take charge? You start sticking freshmen here and there, here and there, and they're just in survival mode, not leadership mode.
Nate Williams had a concussion, and I was expecting him back, and it just got worse as the week progressed. He'll be back this week. He worked out yesterday with us, so that is another leader. Right now we're putting an APB out for tough guys for the guys that take the center of the defense and make it whole. Zach has certainly helped with that.
Sabino was kind of our guy. He was a leader. Shazier's getting better. But Nate Williams and John Simon are – it's a little harder when you're on the edge. It's that old saying of what makes a baseball team solid when they're strong through the middle?
Q. You mentioned you want to get more involved in defense. How in a week where defense is such a focus, how would your timeout change and the attention be divided?
MEYER: I've been thinking about that, and I don't know. I've not done that very often. I think my job is to support our staff, support our players. The one thing, the overall theme of our team is 4 to 6 seconds and I can coach that really well. We're going to demand 4 to 6 seconds of relentless pursuit and effort. If you don't, I'll be involved in that.
But calling defenses, I'll give my ideas, but once again, that would be a mistake for me to come in. We have very good coaches, very good coaches. I think mine is going to be one of leadership, toughness, and the 4 to 6 second demand that we have on this team, not just defense.
Q. Do you anticipate that you might have to make additional personnel moves just to shore up linebackers in other areas?
MEYER: The options are very limited right now. So that's one. The guy that played very well is Noah Spence. So the thing you have to ask yourself, okay, Noah Spence and Nate Williams play the same position, so let's have a conversation about that and we are. How do you get them both on the field at the same time is the conversation. If your best 11, three‑four, four‑three, whatever, get them on the field. We've got enough coaches to figure that out. I'm not saying that's happening. We're just identifying who the best 11 players are and putting that puzzle together.
Q. You talked before the season of coaches that you haven't worked with and see how it goes. Do you feel good about where you are with the defensive staff in terms of being on the same page?
MEYER: Yes, I do. I feel comfortable. I think it takes time. It's not the same staff it was a year ago. There are new guys in that room. But I feel good. They're good team, and great coaches. We just need to see more production on that side of the ball.
Q. You said you guys needed Curtis to be a player for you guys on defense. Played the whole spring as your starting linebacker and played in fall camp. Is there something more to the fact that you can't really get him in there? You had to go to a guy like Zach?
MEYER: To be fair to Curtis, I think that's appropriate because I'm not that knee deep in that. I love Curtis Grant. He's a good person and hs ability. I think those are questions you can ask Coach Fickell. I support it all. But I think you'll see more and more of Curtis Grant. He's only a sophomore. Didn't play much at all at linebacker last year. He took a little longer.
Sometimes guys go through that learning curve of whether it be the style of defense, whether it be overall system of play. But I still think Curtis Grant's got a fine career.
Q. You said you were exposed by the spread, was it by those factors that you mentioned at the top that you want to improve on? Is that why you were exposed?
MEYER: Well, once again, I think there is so much that you can put in – what about this? This is the problem. There are a lot of thing that's we have to get fixed. It comes down to eliminating big plays. That's easy to say. Four to six seconds, missed tackles, leverage on the ball. Every one of those big plays we had very poor leverage on the ball.
The one that the gentleman talked about coming out the gate. Near the end of the game, the cutback one, just very poor leverage on the ball. Usually this time of the year you're working on scheme. Spring practice, training camp is when you do a lot of leverage drills and we're going to enhance that and make it a little stronger and make sure our players understand the leverage of the football.
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