COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even though the recent Ohio State defenses have still used the nickname of "Silver Bullets" from time to time, any passive observer could see that those Buckeyes have resembled their past great defenses in name only.
Buckeye Defense in 2014: No Positions, Just Silver Bullets
By Tony Gerdeman
Referring to the OSU defenses we've seen these last three seasons as "Silver Bullets" would be more than a little dishonest. Unless, of course, those silver bullets were being used to self-inflict a wound in a nearby foot.
Silver Bullet defenses of the past would put pressure on the quarterback from all angles. They tackled in one-on-one situations as if success was the only option, and they were in the faces of receivers like drill sergeants.
Most of all, however, they were a singular unit. It was 11 guys setting a tone; aligned in persistent pursuit, and designed to rattle more cages than a prison riot.
This was not the type of defense that we have seen around Ohio State the last few years, but that type of execution was perhaps the main goal for the Buckeye defense this spring.
"We’re trying to be the Silver Bullets now," said senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett.
"We want to get back to our roots and what the Silver Bullets used to be, something we have gotten away from the last couple of years. We are trying to play more as a defense and less as corners, safeties, linebackers and defensive linemen."
A singular unit is one that moves in unison. No miscommunications, no confusion. There is one simple purpose, and whether a player is the first line of defense or the last line, their job is to stop the football.
The mentality is that there are no positions, only Silver Bullets.
"It really feels like that, it really does," said cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. "We walk in the meeting room and it feels like that. When we're out there practicing and it feels like that. There's just no pushback from one player to another, or any of that kind of stuff. I'm not saying that it didn't exist at other times, but it has been the sole focus for our team.
"Urban has set the tone very clearly – nothing else matters. Four to six seconds. Point A to Point B. All of us doing the same thing, going as hard as we can. And the kids have bought into that, and they're not allowed to not buy into it, to be perfectly honest with you. It's not an option. It is the way it's gonna be, and that's pretty exciting."
A change on defense was overdue for the Buckeyes. When the status quo is causing the defense to get worse, something has to happen. That change came in new coaches, new positions, new schemes, but maybe most importantly, a renewed energy.
No defense ever wants to be bad, but very few have what it takes to be great. According to Coombs, what he saw from the defense this spring has him thinking that the Buckeyes are on the right track.
"Here's what I think, and I think this is at the core of everything that we've talked about all spring, and I know that you guys are getting tired of hearing 'power of the unit' and '4 to 6 seconds', but here is the reality: if that is what is truly important and it becomes important to our players – that 11 guys show up at the ball and it doesn't really matter which number gets their first – and in fact maybe it matters which number gets there last, then our guys are playing like that."
The Ohio State coaches have talked about the power of the unit for years, but lately those units have been about as cohesive as uncooked rice.
Coombs himself has said that he has stressed to Urban Meyer that the cornerbacks and safeties need to meet together more, which they have done, and which didn't happen the last two seasons prior.
Every coach wearing the Scarlet and Gray wants to see the Silver Bullets return to Ohio State, especially the one who had seen it from the other sideline for so many years.
"The history and the tradition of Ohio State football and the defense has been about the Silver Bullets," said defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
"A great defense, I think that's what we all feel we're going to get back to. And that's the way you start, so it's one focus, one fight, one team, and just one idea about being the best defense in the country. So it's easy to sell that when you know what you want to be."
There is no doubt that the Buckeyes know what they want to be. They want to be the Silver Bullets once again, flying around, making messes of offenses, and leaving an aftermath of dissolution and defeat all around them.
This is not yet a finished product on the field for the Buckeyes, but it doesn't have to be. The foundation, however, seems promising.
"We're not doing everything right and we're not making every play you can possibly imagine, but I know this – when you put the film on, we're celebrating those four defensive linemen running around, and they're celebrating us getting the interception," said Coombs.
"It just feels good and it feels more like a family and more like a unit, and that is what is really, really exciting about our defense right now. I don't know how many first round draft picks we'll have this year – we'll have them down the road, but I know this: we're going to have 11 hats at the ball throwing a party when they get there."
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