COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last year was not the way any defense would want to finish out the season, and certainly not an Ohio State defense.
OSU Linebackers Planning a Walk Out In Order to Combat Opposing Offenses
By Tony Gerdeman
However, "wanting" and "doing" are two very different things, especially in football.
The Buckeyes closed out the season allowing 348 yards passing and 148 yards rushing per game in their final five games. Either of those numbers would be unacceptable for an OSU defense, but together they told the story of just how dysfunctional things had become.
Knowing their struggles with the pass defense, more focus had to be paid to stopping opposing quarterbacks late in the season. That then exposed the run defense against teams who weren't necessarily known for their ability to run the ball.
In their first nine games, the Buckeyes were holding opponents to just 88 yards rushing per game. In their final five games, however, that number jumped to 148 yards per game. Those yards came from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson.
Of those teams, Clemson was the only offense that was never held under 100 yards rushing in a game last season. Michigan and Illinois did it four times, Indiana did it twice, and MSU had it happen once.
In other words, these were teams that should have been able to be contained on the ground, but they weren't, and it was because the Buckeyes couldn't contain them through the air either.
One plan for eliminating this problem in the future was the implementation of the "walk out" linebacker, or Sam linebacker, who plays the wide side of the field.
Much has been written about the position this spring when it was successfully manned by redshirt freshmen Darron Lee and Chris Worley, both of whom are former safeties. Their speed and athleticism allows the Buckeyes' base defense to match up better against passing formations, while also being able to hold up against the run.
With how things went this spring, do the Buckeyes think their base defense will be better equipped to avoid the same type of letdown they saw last year?
"I think so," linebacker Joshua Perry said. "We've got some things in there that can help us out in coverage when we've got the sam linebacker playing to the field on a speed guy. That's the one thing about the defense, we're just going to adjust to the guys they have out there and just play hard and fast."
Guys like Lee and Worley allow for that adjustment as they showed an ability to not just cover opposing players, but also a definite ability to cover ground. Being former safeties playing a position that will require supreme effort in pass defense should make things a more natural fit for everybody.
Photo by Dan Harker
"Well, those two linebacker kids are very fast, athletic players. Chris Worley was a safety and Darron Lee was a high school quarterback/athlete," said cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.
"So that kid, that position, has to be an athletic kid. What remains to be seen is what all of their skill set will let them do. I think what everybody would tell you that if you never had to substitute you'd be happy. But with certain personnel groupings, you also feel like you're going to have to play some nickel and dime, and then you just have to run some guys out there."
Given the football of today, a typical seven-man front can no longer handle everything that it sees from a week-to-week basis. This season the Buckeye defense will see a different style of offense almost every single week.
However, while they might open against Navy's triple option, and then go to Virginia Tech's pro style, every team they face will have some type of spread situation that they will have to combat.
For the Ohio State defense to be as good as it can be, they need to find consistency. Substitutions will happen, but their base defense needs to be consistent, and it needs to be on the field as much as it can be.
With Darron Lee and Chris Worley, the hope is that they have found the right mix.
"I think the thing that we're trying to do right now is find a guy who can really cover and stretch the field," said Perry.
"And so when you've got Darron Lee who has bulked up to about 225 compared to a guy who is 250 like me, covering wide receivers from time to time, it will be a little different. He's got the skill set because he played safety in high school to be able to flip the hips and run with those guys and so that's why we like him out there."
As with every other change on the defense, bringing in the "walk out" linebacker has been done because nobody associated with the Ohio State defense wants to go through another stretch like the one to end last season.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With the way things went this spring for the Silver Bullets, the expectation is that their ability to defend multiple formations and offenses with their base defense will allow them to remain sound and consistent, which has been half the battle for them for the last few years.
So what happens if they face another offense like Clemson's this coming season?
"I think we'll be way better prepared just because of how aggressive we want to be," said Perry.
"They hurt us a lot on things on the edges, and right now that's one of the things that we stress – a defense with great leverage. And that's why a lot of times we like to have Darron Lee out there because he's a guy who's got enough tools where he can leverage the ball, and he does a great job of that every day. And then just being able to see and play fast."
The Buckeyes are stressing the edges on defense by maintaining leverage while playing fast and getting to the ball as quickly as possible.
It won't always be the edges that are stressed, however, as the middle of the field will be as well. But that's really the point of the "walk out" linebacker -- to be as versatile as the offenses that the Buckeyes will see.
And by simply walking out, the Ohio State defense could very well be stepping up.
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