COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last week I wrote a piece about the Ohio State defense attempting to return to their Silver Bullet roots by playing as one unit, rather than 11 different positions.
Five for Friday: What Should a 'Silver Bullet' Defense Look Like?
By Tony Gerdeman
Like most everything that I write, it was very well received and people are still telling their children about it to this day. In fact, a month hasn't passed that I haven't been asked about that piece at least once from somebody.
Following the like-laden piece, a reader commented with the following:
"Can anyone set a group of benchmarks of what a really good "Silver Bullet" defense should strive for in today's world of big time college football?"
I thought that was a pretty good question given the changes that we have seen from offenses over the years. What worked in 1996 won't necessarily work as well today. That being said, principles are still principles, and stopping the football is still all that matters for a defense.
Offenses can change, and defenses will have to adapt or die. But the ball is still the thing, and that will never change.
So let's take a look at what a Silver Bullet defense would look like for these Buckeyes.
1. A middle linebacker who has no regard for his body, or anybody else's.
Even against today's fast-paced spread offenses, an inside linebacker whose first instinct is to "see ball, get ball" is still necessary and welcome. If the Buckeyes are going to move forward into the past, they'll need Curtis Grant or Camren Williams or Raekwon McMillan to be a big part of that. Can they get the 23 tackles for loss that the 1996 team got with Andy Katzenmoyer, or the 19.5 tackles for loss from Matt Wilhelm in 2002? It would be surprising if that happened, but if it does, then that's a pretty good indicator that something good is happening. By the way, both of those defenses held opponents under 100 yards rushing per game, which should really be approaching the norm at Ohio State.
2. A defensive coordinator who in a moment of unsurety regarding a blitz, decides, 'I better send one more.'
Contrary to extremely popular belief, a blitz is not always a good idea. In fact, many times it is a very bad idea. However, it looks cool when it works, and when it doesn't work it's usually because "the safety sucks". That being said, if this defense can be a bit (quite a bit) more competent, then that will allow the defensive play caller to be much more aggressive. That aggression should be apparent early in the season, but whether it remains that way will be up to the coverage behind that blitz, as well as the effectiveness of the blitzers. If the defense can't get home on the blitz, then all a defense is doing is removing a defender from the equation. This may read like blitzes are bad news for a defense, but a true "Silver Bullet defense" will have a coach's confidence to call more blitzes. In terms of benchmarks regarding the blitz, it is difficult to quantify, but like other things in life, you know it when you see it.
3. A safety who is one bad morning away from being the target of a nationwide manhunt.
It's too bad the dark helmet visors have been banned, because that would be an automatic accessory here. In the past, Silver Bullet safeties were known for big hits and terrific run defense, but not necessarily their coverage skills. For what these Buckeyes want to do on defense this year, those coverage skills are much more important than they were in the past. And while they're being asked to cover like cornerbacks, they'll still be required to hit like Buckeye safeties of the past. The good thing is that Ohio State will be trotting out a couple of former cornerbacks at safety (Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows), as well as a former five-star recruit (Vonn Bell). The potential is there, even if the visor is not. In terms of benchmarks, intimidation is an intangible, so it is also difficult to quantify.
4. Defensive ends so accustomed to hitting the quarterback that it becomes a form of OCD for them.
My most annoying OCDs involve my wallet. Whenever I'm out and about, I'm checking to make sure I still have my wallet every couple of minutes. I'm patting myself down like I'm trying to get into a nightclub. My other OCD is that whenever I put my ATM card back in my wallet and then put my wallet down, I have to check to make sure that my card is in my wallet, even though it couldn't have gone anywhere in the five seconds since I had put it there. The types of OCDs that a Silver Bullet defense would have would center around repeatedly meeting at the ball as quickly as possible. Like, defensive ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa wouldn't be able to move on to the next play until they've compacted a quarterback on each pass rush. That was the type of compulsion that bookends Matt Finkes and Mike Vrabel played with. In terms of numbers, even with Spence missing a pair of games, 18-20 combined sacks shouldn't be out of reach, especially with 13-15 games on the schedule.
5. Cornerbacks so close to receivers that a standard definition television won't be able to tell you where the receiver ends and the cornerback begins.
The more time passes, the easier it is to misremember how things used to be. For instance, when John Cooper and Jim Tressel were head coaches at Ohio State, the Buckeyes played aggressive, in-your-face press coverage all the time. Except they didn't, not all the time. But they certainly played it more than what we've seen the past two years. That should change this year, and that alone will have a defense looking more like Silver Bullets than almost anything else. Ohio State's previous off-man coverage was supposed to allow for more break ups and interceptions, which it did for the most part. But it also led to more quick gains out wide. The press coverage is meant to eliminate those quick passes, and if a receiver isn't open, the pass may not come. The interception numbers may not look pretty this coming season, but as long as the coverage as there, nobody should care. Remember, when Antoine Winfield won the Thorpe Award in 1998, he did it without intercepting a single pass.
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