Ash in Relentless Pursuit of a Defense at Full Speed
By Tony Gerdeman
"On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died." - Adlai Stevenson
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer has plenty of sayings that he uses around the Ohio State football facility, and most of them involve getting from one place to another with the utmost haste. He would rather see a mistake made at full speed than half speed, and hesitation is the quickest way to find yourself on the bench.
In hiring new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, Meyer wanted somebody with a like mind. He wanted a coach who would get his players to move from Point A to Point B as fast as they could go. Hesitation was no longer to be tolerated because what's the point of recruiting speed if it was always so late in arriving?
Ash is now tasked with not only getting his players up to speed, but also using that speed in the proper ways. The good news for everyone involved, is that this is not a new task for Ash.
"When we met first, he discussed his vision for the defense, and what he wanted to see when the film was turned on," Ash said of Meyer.
"He wanted us to play extremely fast and hard, without hesitation and confusion. Wanted us to be a physical defense, wanted to have an identity, to have a philosophy that we stuck with that people see when they turn on the film. What we wanted, and what I've taught, and what I've been around, matched."
Getting players to play fast is one thing, but getting them to play fast and be in the right places is another. Playing successfully at full speed is just as dependent on understanding as it is any type of physical ability. In any job you'll ever have, the better you understand what you are doing, the faster you'll be able to do it.
Ash can point at his players and tell them to run here or there, but this defense won't be what Meyer wants it to be until everybody knows where they need to be without even thinking about it. And it certainly won't be what Ash wants it to be.
Chris Ash came to Ohio State to win a national championship, but he knows that that won't happen if his defense is laden with hesitation.
"You have to be able to play great defense to be able to win it all," he said.
"You don't have to be the best defense in the country, but you've got to be pretty darn solid to be able to win 13, 14 games. You can't have an average or subpar defense to get that done."
Over the past two seasons, the Buckeyes have done pretty well with an "average or subpar defense", but "pretty well" isn't what the staff is shooting for, and neither is "average" or "subpar".
Ohio State has gone as far as they are going to go with their defenses of late. Urban Meyer got as much success out of them as he could, and now it's time to move on. Something needs to happen, and that's where Chris Ash comes in.
He is no savior, but he does have a vision of what he wants, and what it will take to make that vision happen. He also realizes that square pegs and round holes don't mix, which is why he will always factor in what his team is actually capable of doing when he is designing what he wants them to do.
"You're gonna do what your personal allows you to do," he explained.
"If you have a great nickel and what the offense does allows you to play nickel, great, put the best athletes on the football field. You want to put the best 11 players on the football field. I don't want to play nickel just because you say you're playing nickel when you've got a third linebacker who's a really good player standing on the sideline. It doesn't make much sense. Put your best 11 players out there that give you a chance to win. That's what I believe in."
While Ash is teaching his defense, he is also learning from them. He is seeing what they are capable of, and he is taking account of strengths and weaknesses. In the end, those who play fast will play often, and they'll be playing fast because they know exactly what they're being asked to do.
At least that's the plan.
"You play fast, you play with reckless abandon," Ash said of his defensive preferences.
"You're physical, you throw your body around. You play without hesitation. There's no confusion, you know exactly what you're doing. And there's only one speed, it's full speed. And that's the way we've got to play."
When full speed is the only speed, you don't have much choice but to learn what you're doing and where you're going. For Ash, his teaching process will begin in two weeks, but for his players, the learning process has been ongoing since they arrived at Ohio State.
In fact, that learning process must never stop, and it certainly must never hesitate.
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