Lee's Versatility Will Make the OSU Defense Versatile As Well
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In this day and age of laser light show offensive football, a defense's ability to keep pace with everything thrown at them hinges on the players on the field being able to handle the random adversity that they see from one play to the next.
An offense like the Buckeyes can run up the middle with power repeatedly, or they can throw quick passes out wide, or play-action off of the run and go deep, or Braxton Miller can simply keep the ball on the read option and then 70 yards later hand the ball to the ref in the endzone.
Those plays can come one after the other, all in a hurry up, and each putting a defense in a situation that they aren't matched up well to combat.
This is true of many offenses around the nation, and it's why the Buckeyes are looking for versatile playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. After all, the more things Ohio State can do on defense, the more they can handle from their opponents.
One such player who gives the Buckeyes that type of defensive versatility is second-year linebacker Darron Lee. As far as emerging players this spring, Lee was at the top of the list. He essentially came out of nowhere, and it was because of the different skills that Lee possesses.
Darron Lee makes a tackle during the spring game.
Photo by Dan Harker
"We're trying to put guys out there who can play," explained linebacker Joshua Perry.
"We like Darron out to the field because he's a guy who can run. When we have a nickel out there, it's a safety type of guy. Darron's a guy who can run and cover when we don't have a nickel."
With Lee out to the field side of the ball, he is often matched up in space against slot receivers or tight ends. His ability to stay with them will allow the Buckeyes to stay in a base defense more than perhaps they have been in the past.
The other aspect of Lee's game that the coaches loved this spring is that there was no hesitation. He thought fast and reacted quickly, which allowed him to play at the type of speed that Urban Meyer has been clamoring for.
"I hope the reaction was that they looked quicker, they look faster, they trigger on the ball much better than they have in the past," Meyer said of his defense after the OSU Spring Game.
"If that's your perception, that's mine as well. Darron Lee and Chris Worley are two examples of developed guys that – [I was] ready to send Darron Lee back to New Albany on a one-way bus ticket. He just didn't show up with the right demeanor. He was a quarterback. All the sudden about midway through the season you saw this natural athlete and great kid start to develop and here he is. He'll most likely start for Ohio State."
A defense being more versatile because of a single undersized linebacker who can run like a safety might sound nice against a spread offense, but the Buckeyes won't be facing just spread offenses.
Versatility doesn't simply mean that a defense can hold up against the spread, it also means that they can handle a rugged running game. Does a defense devised to stop the spread mean that they are ill-suited for taking on a running game like Wisconsin's?
"I don't think so," Perry said.
"We watch Darron practice and he drops his hips and he can pop people. And that's what you look for. It doesn't matter the size, he takes on blocks really well because he's a long guy. He's got long levers and he's got power when he drops his hips. I think the more he works on that, the better, but we'll be able to hang with those guys."
Bells and whistles on offense aren't going to go away any time soon. However, that won't stop defenses from trying to find ways to quiet them when they can. The Buckeyes are hoping Darron Lee can help in that quest, and his versatility is the reason why.
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