Reader Mail: Defese a concern

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Last updated: 06/29/2014 0:11 AM
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Football
Reader Mail: "Well, the defense seems to be a topic of concern..."
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A few days ago I solicited some questions for my next mailbag, and I got one from the Forum that was bulleted and really too long to include in a normal mailbag.

However, the questions contained therein were interesting and relevant and I thought it best to pull it from the pile and address it separately.

(Basically, if you're gonna ask me to write you a page's worth of answers, then I'm at least going to get a page's worth of clicks out of it. Because that's how I roll.)

So let's get to the 'War & Peace' of Mailbag questions.

Well, the defense seems to be a topic of concern...

1. Can we project who our starters will be on the defensive backfield at this time?

2. With all the changes in our defensive coaching philosophy and schemes, will our defense be able to play good enough, early, to keep opposing offenses under wraps while they jell together?

3. Will the simplification of our defensive scheme help our young linebackers get back into the grove of things, rather than waffling back and forth between supporting the run up front and covering for the defensive back weaknesses?

4. Can this young and schematically changed defense play aggressively, but under control early on?

IMO, talent is there aplenty. But it is going to take a little time for the pieces to come together, specially early on.

— WolfsBane 

Let's look at these one at a time, that way if I get fatigued halfway through I can take a break and pick up without any confusion to myself.

1. Can we project who our starters will be on the defensive backfield at this time?

With 100% surety, I don't think so. Some may tell you that they know who will be starting, but I think the battle is too close between Armani Reeves, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple at field corner. Reeves ended the spring as the starter, with Conley behind him and Apple third, but it was close at each level. The guy who ends up with the ones to start camp could be third by the time the team heads for Navy. Kerry Coombs says he's going to play more corners than he did a year ago, so there will be more opportunities for jobs to be won.

Then you have the situation at free safety. Will Vonn Bell start out with the ones like he did before his injury, or will he have to take it from Cam Burrows? Will they be splitting snaps until somebody emerges? The answer today may not be the answer tomorrow. Then what about the nickel situation. I have plans to discuss this topic in depth at another time, but the staff likes what Reeves does in that position, yet will that position go back to Burrows or Bell as it was intended prior to Bell's injury?

I just think there are too many variables to give you a definitive answer, and anybody who does give you a definitive answer is simply hoping they're going to end up correct. Other than that, both Doran Grant and Tyvis Powell are locks, and performed like it this past spring. They are two of the team's leaders.

2. With all of the changes in our defensive coaching philosophy and schemes, will our defense be able to play good enough, early, to keep opposing offenses under wraps while they jell together?

The Navy game to start the season is always an odd way to get things going. It would be like Rocky Balboa warming up for fights against Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang by "fighting" Thunderlips. It makes no sense and does nothing to prepare him for his two toughest opponents.

I do think we'll have an idea of how well the secondary will play if we see the play-action by Navy being well-defended. That alone would be a tremendous indicator of future outcomes. If Navy runs for 300 yards, that doesn't mean much to me. It's too much, but it doesn't mean Michigan State will do it, or Michigan or Virginia Tech. But while trying to defend that run, if the OSU defensive backs are performing their duties, and not biting on the fakes by quarterback Keenan Reynolds, then that would tell me we are watching a very disciplined defense, which is what people have been dying for all along.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, will be starting a new quarterback and trying to improve upon a running attack that was non-existent a year ago. If the Hokies have a field day on offense, then it will be another cringeworthy season of defense for the Buckeyes. If VT is shut down, however, that may not actually mean that much. Same with Kent State the week following. I do think the VT and Kent State games should be confidence builders for the Buckeye defense.

That Navy game, however, is like being asked to sing karaoke before you perform a surgery. Just because you may not be able to hit the high notes doesn't mean you're gonna nick an artery later on. They really have nothing to do with each other.

3. Will the simplification of our defensive scheme help our young linebackers get back into the groove of things, rather than waffling back and forth between supporting the run up front and covering for the defensive back weaknesses?

That is absolutely the plan. Things will get less simplified as they go on and as the defense can handle more, but when I asked linebacker Joshua Perry what the most difficult part of learning this new defense was, he told me "nothing", because they were keeping things so simple.

After the Spring Game, Tyvis Powell said the defense only had six calls to make so far, and they only used two in the game. He was asked how many calls they had last year, and he laughed and said, "Too many," adding that they would go into games with 10 or 11 calls. The smaller playbook allows quicker thinking, which allows more aggressive play, or at least that's the theory.

4. Can this young and schematically-changed defense play aggressively, but under control early on?

You know, I have no idea how aggressive they can be against Navy because usually the most important thing against that style of offense is to simply mind your assignment. Now there will be some assignments that send members of the back seven into the backfield, but who knows how often that will be.

As for the early games after Navy, I fully expect them to be under control and aggressive, because things will be simple enough for them to remain calm, yet aggression is the order from Urban Meyer, so it has to happen. I don't expect anything fancy, but then defense shouldn't have to be.

I hope this addresses your questions in a satisfactory manner. If it does not, I look forward to your 15-page complaint, good sir.

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