OSU Secondary Learning From Last Year's Struggles, Using it as Motivation

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Last updated: 05/22/2014 2:10 AM
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OSU Secondary Learning From Last Year's Struggles, Using it as Motivation
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A season ago, the Ohio State secondary gave up passing yards like they had no choice, and maybe that's because they didn't.

Once starting safety Christian Bryant went down, the flood gates opened and footballs were flying around without fear or trepidation. Even teams that weren't known for throwing the ball were putting up season highs against the Buckeyes.

It created a lasting memory of the season, especially given the struggles over the Buckeyes' final three games when opponents averaged 377.7 yards passing per game.

Basically, the Ohio State secondary was the defensive version of coach-pitch baseball – nothing too fast, and always easy to read. Obviously, it led to a few home runs along the way as well.

Even though only two starters return from last year's secondary, there are plenty of familiar faces who are back and looking for redemption.

"Let's be honest now, if you're a prideful person – they read the paper too – if you're a prideful person, if you're a man, there's two ways to handle that, right?" cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said when asked if the spring was a struggle to get the pride back in the secondary.

"You can turn tail and run. You can point the finger at somebody else and blame them, or you can say that 'I'm gonna resolve this situation.' I think our kids are focused. I think they're energetic. I don't think they're down in the dumps. I think they're playing their butts off. I'm excited to coach them, and now they've got a chip on their shoulder, and I think they should."

CB Coach Kerry Coombs directs Armani Reeves during practice.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Kerry Coombs and Armani Reeves

Having a chip on your shoulder is only a good thing if you do something with it. Otherwise it's simply a burden. Everybody talks about putting those chips to good use, but far too often, talk is all that it remains.

The same could be going on at Ohio State. It could all be talk. However, after going through a season like they did last year, it's easy to assume that the Buckeyes have no desire to take part in their own 'Groundhog Day'.

The wish to not relive those types of memories should provide plenty of motivation.

"I wouldn’t say it haunts us, I think it motivates us," said cornerback Armani Reeves. 

"Obviously everybody knows the pass defense last year, it had its ups and downs. This year we got a fresh start and we’re just going to come out hungry. Only thing it can do is motivate you to play better than you did last year. 

"Trust me, there’s no going down, you can only go up from there. You keep on playing hungry, you keep on playing hard, we’ll get there. It’s a process, but we’re going to get there. I’m not worried about it at all. As long as we play hard right now, that’s all we can ask for."

That process has been going on for a while now, spanning multiple seasons. Sometimes things looked like they were getting settled, only to crumble again in an aftershock of secondary confusion.

After two seasons of substandard Ohio State defenses, Urban Meyer's patience for a real, live Buckeye defense has worn tissue thin finally. 

Even though Ohio State sent yet another cornerback to the first round of the NFL Draft, the cohesiveness of a secondary can come and go based on the mistimed whims of a single player. Sometimes it doesn't matter what the cornerbacks are doing if the last line of defense is busy staring into the backfield.

There wasn't just one issue with the Ohio State pass defense last season, or the season before that. Those issues have caused the Buckeyes to fail to live up to the expectations that are placed upon them once they don the Scarlet and Gray.

"Whether it's a player or it's a coach, the expectations are incredibly high, and they should be," said Coombs. 

"We should fulfill those expectations, and we should do everything we can so if something is not working the way it should, fix it. Fix it. So the mission has been from the day we walked off that field at the end of the year until we go back on the field again in the fall is to fix it. This is what the head coach has decided, and he's right. We're going to go four to six seconds, Point A to Point B as hard as we can, and everything else is going to take care of itself, and I believe that. 

"His point, and he makes it again and again and again, is that technique will never beat effort, and effort will always beat technique. Our guys, if we play as hard as we can, and we're the hardest-playing team on the field on any given Saturday, then we've got a great chance to be successful. Our kids buy into that and it's showing up out there."

Meyer has been supremely critical of last year's Ohio State secondary, though some would probably just call it "honesty". He has made no secret of his disappointment with the performance of the entire Buckeye defense a season ago, but especially with the pass defense.

Like his players, he wants to avoid that happening again, and if it takes a little bit of tough love to make it happen, then don't expect Meyer to hold back.

"It's not getting our feelings hurt," explained cornerback Doran Grant of Meyer's criticisms.

"He's the head coach, this is his team and he knows good ball. He's been successful for many years and we've seen it. We watch the film and we know what we've got to do. We're taking it as a challenge and we're gonna answer it."

If the Buckeyes are able to answer that challenge, then they'll look back at last season as an incredible learning opportunity. 

And they'll hope to never go through it again.

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