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Last updated: 03/02/2014 4:32 AM
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Football
Coaches Expecting Improvement, Competition in OSU Secondary
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For many, the lasting memory of Ohio State's 2013 football season will be the way opposing quarterbacks sliced through the Buckeye secondary like a skiff racing through whitecaps.

The Ohio State defense allowed 348.2 yards passing per game in the final five games of 2013. In Big Ten games that didn't involve Purdue, the Buckeyes allowed 310 yards passing per game, and it's not like the Big Ten is known as a pass-happy conference.

Ohio State went into games last year knowing that they weren't going to be able to defend the pass, and their inability to stop the inevitable was renewed nearly every single week.

The reasons for the struggles should be in the past, and even if they aren't, new secondary coach Chris Ash isn't interested in hearing about them.

"I'll be quite honest with you," he said last month, "I'm not concerned about what's happened here in the past, I really don't care. I'm more concerned about the direction we're going to go. I really don't care what's happened in the past."

This is the proper attitude for a new coach, though some would be concerned that if the coaches don't understand why things happened the way they did last year, there is the possibility that they could happen again.

With a month to prepare for the Orange Bowl, the Buckeyes showcased a new secondary to end the season. That secondary was hit and miss and had some mixed reviews, but considering the amount of talent they were going against in Clemson, things could have been worse.

Still, quarterback Tajh Boyd and the Tigers threw for 378 yards and had the Buckeye secondary spinning in place at times. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs knows it was not a good performance, but he didn't think it was all bad, considering the circumstances and the amount of new starters on the field.

"What I would say is all five secondary players were playing in new spots, which was a unique experience that sometimes happens based on alignment and injuries and all of the things that can take place in the course of a season," Coombs explained.

"I think that there were tough plays made by a very good offense, and I think our kids will learn and grow from that. I also think there were positives that came out of that game for our kids. So our job is to correct mistakes, to develop players, and to move forward with a difference in our approach and I think our kids are excited about that. In fact, I know they're excited about that. I would expect that they're going to play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder."

A chip on the shoulder is nice, but a strong defense is nicer. A championship team is going to come up against a dynamic offense at some point, and it's then that a defense needs to step up.

When given those opportunities last year, rarely did the Ohio State defense respond to the challenge. Ash is expecting that to change moving forward.

"I do think we have tremendous players here," he said.

"We've had workouts that I've been a part of, we have a lot of talent here. Some of it's inexperienced talent. It's gonna be our job to teach them, but by the time we get through spring practice and training camp there will be no inexperience anymore. We've got to be game ready. Do we have enough talent to compete against an offense like Clemson? I don't know yet but I think so."

Just being a year older is generally enough to bring about improvement, but the Buckeyes are losing three senior safeties and a three-year starter at cornerback. It will take more than just a one-year improvement to bring this secondary to where it needs to be, and the coaches are preparing for exactly that.

"There will be some changes," Coombs said.

"The competition I would tell you is wide open. You've got to perform to play.

"And I think that the expectation on the part of every player on this football team is you've got to show up every day and you've got to perform in order to play in the fall.

"We're going to work really hard on finding those guys who can compete and who will challenge in tough situations, whether they're incoming freshmen, redshirt freshmen or experienced kids."

That competition will no doubt bring about improvement, which is exactly what the Buckeye secondary needs this spring. How much improvement to expect, however, is the real question, and those answers will start coming in the next few days.

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