Pressing to be better

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Last updated: 04/08/2014 1:37 PM
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Buckeyes Pressing to Make Defense Better
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A head football coach only has to watch Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins catch the ball 16 times in a single football game before he realizes that a defensive change is needed in a very drastic way.

For Urban Meyer, that Watkins glean came in January's Orange Bowl as the Tigers receiver finished with 17 touches for 230 yards, and the disgust that came with it was an early indicator that the status quo had become "status no".

Playing in their standard off-man coverage, Meyer saw his cornerbacks give up quick catch after quick catch in that game, and really all year long.

The ironic part of the full-time move to off-man coverage in 2012 is that it was supposed allow for more interceptions. While they have topped the 13 interceptions in 2011 with 14 in 2012 and 16 in 2013, they fell short of the 19 in 2010 and the 24 in 2009.

What the defense discovered in Meyer's first two seasons was that it is impossible to intercept a quick screen out wide, and stopping those plays at the line of scrimmage wasn't much easier.

With the departure of Everett Withers and the hiring of Chris Ash as co-defensive coordinator, the Buckeyes are now headed back to a more aggressive press-man approach, and their crash course has been going on all spring long.

"In order to do that, you've got to do it," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said of the change. 

Kerry Coombs
Photo by Dan Harker
Kerry Coombs

"So you'll notice in every single snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage, and that's the way we're gonna learn it. And then we'll find out how we stack up when the fall comes around."

Rather than worrying about being more available for interceptions, the Ohio State corners are now focused on simply not allowing a completion, and if an interception comes off of that, great.

"You see it every Sunday, all you see is Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson," said cornerback Armani Reeves. 

"They’re sitting there pressed up, doing their thing. That’s what you dream of, just pressing up like, ‘You’re not catching the ball on me.’ If you have that mentality every play, great things are going to happen."

That's the type of mentality that Meyer wants from his entire defense, and for the first time since he's been at Ohio State, he is finally getting it from his secondary.

"It takes practice to play that way," Coombs explained. 

"Football is made up of a myriad of different schemes. There's lots of different things, and it's not like you can just say, 'Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go play.' It's the scheme, it's how everything fits together. 

"I'm not blaming that on anybody, but that was not what we were doing. We did it at times. We didn't make it our base concept, it was an adjustment. Now it is our base alignment and we will adjust off of that."

That base alignment is music to a cornerback's ears. They can now jam a receiver at the line of scrimmage, rather than sit back on their heels waiting to find out which way to turn and run. 

That doesn't mean life will be easier for them, but they will have a little more say in just how difficult it will be.

"It’s fun, we all like that," Reeves said of the change. 

"Being a bit more aggressive, and you can play with your strengths when you’re playing press. I’m bigger than a lot of the guys, so I can use my hands and my body more. A lot of the guys, they got good feet and they’re faster. They can really bump and grind and just run with them down the field. It’s really available to play with your strengths and it makes it fun."

Armani Reeves (26) "presses up" during OSU spring drills
Photo by Jim Davidson
Armani Reeves

When something is fun, it generally makes the adjustment easier to handle. So far the Buckeye cornerbacks have been one of the highlights of the spring, so the adjustment appears to be going well.

The adjustment is also going well for Coombs, who finds himself more in his comfort zone with the aggressive approach.

"The style of play we're playing is different," he said. 

"We're playing a style of defense that is very appealing to me as a corners coach, and a lot the stuff that I believe in, so I'm very, very excited about that."

Coombs isn't the only one excited about the move. His corners are also pleased with the change. 

More importantly, however, Urban Meyer is pleased with the change. Most likely because he will never again have to watch his defense give up 16 catches to a single receiver due to a design flaw.

With that problem presumably fixed, the defense can now move on to more pressing matters, such as more pressing and why it matters.

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