Practice Insider: Defense

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Last updated: 03/05/2014 4:01 AM
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Spring Practice Insider: Revamped Defense Hits the Field for the First Time
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tuesday was a brand new day and it brought with it a brand new Ohio State defense. At least that's Urban Meyer's hope.

With one practice now in the books, we caught a sliver of a look at what the Buckeye defense could resemble down the road. For the most part, the defense stayed in their base 4-3 look with no nickel or dime situations.

The surprise for some was the fact that Darron Lee was with the first team at weakside linebacker. This is the position at Ohio State which is essentially the designated tackler, so that should give you an idea about how much the coaches think of Lee at this point. Urban Meyer said that Lee had earned his spot, and said that he's a legitimate 4.5 guy.

Lee is currently listed as a sophomore, but OSU is hopeful that he will be granted a medical redshirt for last season. Behind him was sophomore Trey Johnson, whom many expected to open the spring as the #1.

The linebacker depth chart broke down this way:

WLB - Darron Lee / Trey Johnson
MLB - Curtis Grant / Camren Williams / Raekwon McMillan
SLB - Joshua Perry / Chris Worley

Camren Williams also got some snaps with the ones, and most of Raekwon McMillan's snaps came with the twos. Chris Worley is still listed as a safety on the official roster, but he is now a linebacker, and with his speed and athleticism could be an ideal fit for the position, given that there is really no difference between the sam linebacker and the star. 

Meyer said that he liked the way McMillan moved around today. There are really very few plays for linebackers to make this early, so what the coaches are looking for at this point is for them to be exactly where they're supposed to be.

Up on the Corner
While the "starting" cornerbacks were Doran Grant and Armani Reeves, perhaps the defensive star of the day was second-teamer Gareon Conley.

Conley was frequently matched up with Corey Smith, and the two of them had some tremendous battles. Even when Smith would come down with the ball, the coverage was right there. Conley did buckle his right knee a bit towards the middle of practice, but didn't miss more than a snap or two.

Doran Grant also had some nice PBUs in one-on-ones, though Corey Smith also got the best of him on a play. Grant was rarely out of position on the afternoon.

Eli Apple didn't participate in practice, though he was present. Walk-on Nik Sarac was working with the twos. Remember, Ohio State only has four scholarship cornerbacks on the roster this spring.

Fans will probably be thrilled to hear that the cornerbacks played up tight on the receivers, though other coverages will certainly be mixed in down the road.

Safety in Numbers
Urban Meyer said after practice that he likes the three safeties of Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Cameron Burrows. It's not the first time he's said that either.

Bell spent most of his time working at strong safety while Powell was at free safety. They did switch it up a time or two, however. Burrows backed up Bell while Ron Tanner was behind Powell. Redshirt freshman Jayme Thompson was back following an injury last season, but he didn't take many, if any, reps.

Both Powell and Burrows had issues trying to stay with Dontre Wilson in one-on-ones and 7-on-7, which shouldn't be much of a surprise. Bell did limp off the field following a pass break up, but it didn't appear to be anything serious.

Larry Johnson and His Crew

It was interesting to watch new defensive line coach Larry Johnson put his men through a few different drills, including one that looked like they were working on the world's worst golf swing. Even Happy Gilmore would have cringed.

In terms of the one-on-one drills, however, it was a good day for the defensive line. Adolphus Washington looked very good rushing the passer on the inside, and his spin move still has Tommy Brown in disbelief. Michael Bennett was still as quick as you'd expect as well.

There's little doubt that this front four will be able to rush the passer. The question will be whether or not they can stop the run.

One of the other surprises of the day was redshirt freshman Tyquan Lewis in front of Jamal Marcus on the depth chart at Viper. Both were behind Noah Spence, who again left a few offensive tackles in the dust.

Also, Joey Bosa is still Joey Bosa, except now he is 10 pounds heavier than he was a year ago. He is now measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds.

A Fly on the Wall
There were a couple of interesting exchanges overheard while on the sideline. The first-team defense did a drill, and then had to do it over again because somebody didn't do something right. Adolphus Washington asked his teammates what happened, and somebody replied, "We have to run it over again."

Washington replied, "But what HAPPENED?" In other words, he was trying to understand who did what wrong so that it wouldn't keep happening.

Also, I think I know the defense's mantra this year. After one particular drill, Luke Fickell came over to the linebackers and yelled, "Know what the hell you're doing!"

In 2013 it was "The Chase". Maybe in 2014 it's "Know what the hell you're chasing."

The Coach Speaks
Urban Meyer had a few interesting comments after practice, saying that "I felt like we were a 'what if' defense last year," rather than an attacking, triggering defense. He obviously wants that to change this season.

Even though he was very subdued today (doctor's orders following his recent surgery), he was very involved with the defensive side of the ball. He spoke with each of the defensive players telling him that he wanted speed and effort, and mistakes weren't the end of the world.

He was also talking with Luke Fickell a bit during practice, asking questions along the way.

The Defensive Depth Chart
The "first day of camp" caveat applies here as well. This lineup will likely change, but here's what it looked like today.

Viper - Noah Spence / Tyquan Lewis / Jamal Marcus
DT - Adolphus Washington / Tommy Schutt / Michael Hill / Tracy Sprinkle
DT - Michael Bennett / Chris Carter / Donovan Munger
DE - Joey Bosa / Steve Miller
WLB - Darron Lee / Trey Johnson
MLB - Curtis Grant / Camren Williams / Raekwon McMillan
SLB - Joshua Perry / Chris Worley
CB - Doran Grant / Nik Sarac
CB - Armani Reeves / Gareon Conley
FS - Tyvis Powell / Ron Tanner
SS - Vonn Bell / Cameron Burrows

Don't be surprised if McMillan gets a few looks with the ones during camp as Meyer can't stop talking about him. Meyer also mentioned after practice that he can't wait to get freshman Kyle Berger in camp this summer.

As an aside, we didn't get to see much of the special teams, but your three punt returners were Corey Smith, Johnnie Dixon and Dontre Wilson.

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