Football Spring Practice Insider: Defense Coming Together
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer likes where his team is at this spring, but he expressed some concerns about the defense after practice on Tuesday.
He no longer sees guys like John Simon, Garrett Goebel, Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino when he looks over at Luke Fickell’s side of the ball. There’s some obvious talent, but Meyer will rely on his defensive backfield to carry the leadership role on defense this year.
Here’s an inside look at the OSU defense, which is looking for seven new starters this offseason.
Bennett Fights Back
Photo by Jim Davidson
Michael Bennett was one of the few players Meyer had high praise for after practice on Tuesday. Initially, he said Bennett was 6-for-6 this spring with good days, but then he switched it to 5-for-6 after remembering the junior had one bad day.
Meyer said it’s big for Bennett because he is a guy who hadn’t been able to string three good days together before this year. He’s the leader on the defensive line and they are expecting a lot from him this year.
It wasn’t a great start to the day for Bennett, who struggled to get by right guard Marcus Hall during one-on-one drills. Hall had to resort to holding Bennett the first time, but then he stoned the junior out of Centerville on four straight attempts.
In my opinion, that says more about Hall than it does about Bennett. It looked like they were working primarily on bull-rushing inside, and Hall held up much better than he has in years past. He could be a guy to emerge this year, but Bennett looked much better during the scrimmages.
At one point during the goal line drill, Bennett got in the face of his fellow defenders after they allowed the offense to get in the end zone. He raised his hands in the air and yelled out in anger. It was good to see him show that much emotion, and he was in the backfield on the very next play creating havoc. If he could play with that much anger every play, Bennett could be an All-American. Talent is not the issue.
Spence Making Name for Himself
One thing that should make Bennett even better this year is lining up next to Noah Spence. The sophomore out of Pennsylvania is quickly emerging as one of the best players on this OSU defense.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With Ryan Shazier still sidelined, Spence might actually be the best player in the front seven. He’s certainly the most impactful, and the best pass rusher Ohio State has on the roster.
I watched Spence in a number of one-on-one drills against a handful of different offensive lineman, and he was too quick for all of them. The best matchup is usually with Jack Mewhort, but Spence even got the better of Ohio State’s senior left tackle a few times on Tuesday.
He also torched right tackle Taylor Decker on the other side, and it simply wasn’t fair when they matched him up against backup right guard Tommy Brown. To Decker’s credit, he came back and won a couple battles with Spence later on, but there is no question Spence is going to make a lot of offensive tackles look foolish this fall.
* Shazier still not back out there yet. He worked on the side as he continues to recover from offseason surgery.
* DT Tommy Schutt suffered a minor ankle sprain during practice and spent the rest of the day working with the twos. Joel Hale slid up to work the ones.
* LB Josh Perry had to leave practice because of asthma.
Linebackers Still Scuffling
It wasn’t a great day for the linebackers on Tuesday. Most of the time, it was Luke Fickell yelling at Curtis Grant and David Perkins for being out of position. Both guys look great athletically, but they are still struggling to find the balance between instincts and understanding.
David Perkins Photo by Jim Davidson
Right now, I think linebacker is the single biggest question mark for this football team as we close in on the spring game in Cincinnati later this month. Grant and Perkins were the first team linebackers again on Tuesday, while Camren Wiliams and Josh Perry worked with the second group.
Perry had to leave practice because of asthma, which has been a problem for him in the past. He was replaced by classmate Luke Roberts and walk-on Craig Fada. Both guys made a couple mistakes and a couple nice plays on Tuesday.
The most interesting twist was when they decided to let Curtis Grant rush the passer with his hand in the ground on a few third-and-long situations.
Back to Basics
We didn’t see much of it, but the Buckeyes did finally use some of their base package on defense Tuesday. With Shazier still recovering from offseason surgery, the first group featured Grant at Mike linebacker and Perkins at Will linebacker, with Perry at Sam linebacker.
Photo by Dan Harker
The second group had Camren Williams in the middle with Roberts and Fada on the outside. Whenever Shazier returns, it will bump Perkins down to the second ground, but there’s no reason to rush him back. They already know what Shazier brings to the table.
Another look the Buckeyes showed on Tuesday was a goal line package. It featured one corner, two safeties, three linebackers and five defensive linemen. The group across the front was Steve Miller, Bennett, Hale, Chris Carter and Adolphus Washington. All of those guys are strong against the run.
I though Carter was especially effective at clogging up the middle around the goal line. He stopped forward progress a number of times, but Jacoby Boren did a good job using technique against him.
Nickel and Dimed
While they did show their base defense on Tuesday, the Buckeyes spent most of the day in either nickel or dime defense. Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said offenses are so advanced and spread out these days, it forces defenses to put more speed on the field.
In a perfect world, he would like to play base defense with three linebackers on the field at all times, but that’s not reality anymore. They would have liked to use more nickel and dime packages last year, but it’s extremely hard to put those things in during the season. That’s why they’re doing it now.
Looking for a Star
Withers said they want someone at Star who can cover but also play physical. That's where Tyvis Powell fits in. Withers also thinks freshman Vonn Bell could be another guy at the Star position this fall, and he even texted Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown to let him know he had better up his game.
Brown looked good on Tuesday and was one of the few standouts in the eyes of Urban Meyer. He made the key stop for the defense to give them a victory over the offense in the goal line series.
No Rock Unturned
The Buckeyes added a new walk-on this week in the person of former Michigan defensive end Chris Rock. The Columbus DeSales product started classes at Ohio State last August and recently asked for an opportunity to walk on to the team. He will be a third-year sophomore in the fall and wear No. 91 for the Buckeyes
Depth Charting the Defense
8 Noah Spence
34 Jamal Marcus
59 Tyquan Lewis
63 Michael Bennett
90 Tommy Schutt
NOSE TACKLE (Nickel)
51 Joel Hale
72 Chris Carter
92 Adolphus Washington
88 Steve Miller
94 Rashad Frazier
14 Curtis Grant
5 Cam Williams
21 David Perkins
42 Luke Roberts
SLB (In Base)
37 Josh Perry
38 Craig Fada
STAR 1 (Nickel)
23 Tyvis Powell
11 Adam Griffin
STAR 2 (Dime)
3 Corey Brown
16 Cam Burrows
1 Bradley Roby
16 Cam Burrows
13 Eli Apple
12 Doran Grant
26 Armani Reeves
2 Christian Bryant
20 Ron Tanner
4 C.J. Barnett
3 Corey Brown
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