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Last updated: 05/14/2013 5:42 AM
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Secondary Could Be Primary For Buckeyes in 2013
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As offenses today are trying to spread opponents out and put as much speed on the field as possible, defenses have to try and match them as best as they can. This season, the Buckeyes will face more teams that run some variant of a spread offense than teams that do not, so they have to make sure that they have the personnel to match up.

Ohio State's plan of attack this season will involve placing more defensive backs on the field when the situation calls for it, which it usually will. Using nickel and dime defenses could leave a team vulnerable to a power spread offense, but the Buckeyes will usually only run into that problem in practice.

The Ohio State defense was almost entirely nickel and dime this spring, yet it wasn't a defense that simply sat back in coverage, it was an active, attacking defense. There were frequent, and effective, cornerback blitzes, which kept the quarterbacks from getting too comfortable.

The increased number of defensive backs would ideally allow the Buckeyes to lock down the speed that lines up opposite them. As they do that, everything else on defense then becomes more effective as well.

Kerry Coombs
Photo by Dan Harker
Kerry Coombs

"I think the benefit is the more fast guys you can get on the field against spread offensive teams, particularly in passing situations, the greater chance you have to play multiple coverages," OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said.

"You can play more man to man, you rush the passer more effectively. It's third and nine and you don't anticipate that they're going to run a two-back run game at you, so get some fast guys out there that can cover. We didn't have enough last year to be able to do that."

The thinking is that the longer each defender in the back seven can stay with their man, the more time the defensive line will have to pass rush. Keep in mind, however, that this isn't a pass rush that expects to need much time.

"If you’re not good up front, there is no pressure," co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers reminds us. "That’s where you start. Offense and defensive line is where you start in football anyway."

If the Ohio State defensive line performs up to its usual standard, that will alleviate some concern when it comes to defending the run. However, extra defensive backs will do no good if the Buckeyes don't have the talent to fill the necessary roles.

Tyvis Powell
Photo by Jim Davidson
Tyvis Powell

Fortunately for Ohio State, Tyvis Powell had a very solid spring as the nickel back. He showed an ability to cover both receivers and tight ends, and also displayed a knack for heavy hitting. He solidified a defense this spring that was looking for answers at the star position.

"No question, a huge spring for Tyvis in a lot of ways," Withers said.

"As a freshman coming in last year, you’re thrown into it. Going into last spring we didn’t know. We came out of the fall thinking this guy has some ability, and he was able to take that and go into a star position and play well and be productive. Huge spring for us and he answered the bell.

"Right now we feel like our nickel is the best look for us with guys like Tyvis Powell. Hopefully we can continue to recruit guys like him who can play in those spots. It allows you to be faster on the field, more athletic in space. That’s where football is going."

The Buckeyes also found the dime package to their liking on defense as well. It puts even more speed on the field, but they're still figuring out how to best utilize it.

Everett Withers
Photo by Jim Davidson
Everett Withers

"Some of the things we did out of it were very beneficial," Withers said. "We’re in the infancy stages of growing that package, so I think we can continue to get better and evaluate more guys in that spot.

"It's one of those positions that’s a hybrid, almost like the star position. Where the star is a hybrid sam linebacker, the dime is a little bit of a hybrid will linebacker. We’ve identified several guys and hopefully some of these guys in the summer can add something."

Corey Brown and Adam Griffin received plenty of snaps in this package throughout the spring, but the player best suited for this role might not even be on campus yet. Vonn Bell, the incoming freshman safety out of Georgia, was the crown jewel in Withers' recruiting booty, and he is as anxious as anybody to see the kid on the field.

"He’s an athletic guy," Withers said.

"He’s got really good ball skills. His development in the scheme will be crucial. He’s a good tackler. One of the things I really liked about him is his range. He can run, he can cover ground. He plays well with the ball in the air. He understands angles. Hopefully he can fit and be able to help us in some of those sub packages, dime and maybe even at free safety with some depth there."

Like the offense last year, the defense this year will only be able to play what their personnel allows. To this point, that personnel has displayed some versatility, and there is likely more on the way.

It's that versatility that will be utilized to match up with every different type of offense that the Buckeyes will face this year. How well they perform will dictate what type of season the Ohio State defense is in for.

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