Looking back, the Ohio State cornerbacks probably could have looked back a bit more over the last two seasons.
So often over that time the coverage would be there, but the pass would still be completed because the Buckeye defender wouldn’t turn his head and look back for the ball.
There was a method that brought about your madness, however.
Two years ago, then-Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano explained the technique they teach their corners, and it was basically that if the defender wasn’t even with the receiver, they weren’t supposed to look back. Then when the ball came, try to play the receiver’s hands and break the pass up. It’s not an uncommon technique in the press man style the Buckeyes played.
Last year, it was the same, as then-cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson explained.
“When we’re in face, when we have the receiver cut off, meaning that we have him completely cut off and now we become the receiver, that’s when we want to get our head turned. We don’t even tell our guys to turn around. We tell them to make sure we look back and look up. Because that ball’s coming usually on the outside.
“So we’re going to look up through where it has the Big Ten at the top (of the helmet), we’re looking up through that and that will help us lean and locate the ball on the receiver. Until then, at any point in time, we are not in that position. Then we have to continue to fight for that position and when we see hands, then we’ve got to go for hands to get the ball. We’re not really reaching for the ball. We’re reaching for the opposite wrist to rake down and get it out.”
Things are changing a bit, however.
No, the techniques won’t be much different, but the focus is another story.
During his introductory press conference, co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley assured the assembled press that the Buckeyes would be looking back for the ball this season.
One of the ways they will be doing that is by playing more zone and keeping their faces pointed towards the quarterback.
Another way they’ll be doing it is by emphasizing the technique of when and how to look back now, rather than waiting until the middle of the season like they apparently did a year ago.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a different technique,” said junior cornerback Jeff Okudah. “We’re definitely drilling it more, earlier on. Last year, we didn’t start working on that until maybe after the Tulane game. So working on it in spring, you’re giving us a six-month head start to work on one technique. Just doing that now, as opposed to doing it later in the season, I think you’re going to see guys way more confident to look back for the football.”
They say practice makes perfect, but perfection for a cornerback is not an attainable goal. A more fitting suggestion would be practice makes permanent.
The more something is practiced and drilled, the more comfortable players are in doing it. Over the last two years, it would seem the OSU cornerbacks were reticent to look back for the ball based on all of the bad that could come from it.
The difference now is that Hafley and assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes are pointing towards all of the good that could come from it as well.
“A lot of the times [last year], looking back for the ball, you’d make that play if you just turned around,” Okudah said. “But just having the confidence to do it and doing it earlier on. I think it’ll be like you have no excuse to not look back for the ball now if you’re in position.”
What kind of drills has Hafley installed that involve this renewed focus?
“So we do a drill, we look up, look back at our man, look up, look back at our man, catch the ball,” explained defensive back Shaun Wade. “This year, he’s telling us we’re going to be competing on the fly balls. Every fly ball should get an interception this year. No matter.”
That may be a lofty goal, but if all goes as planned this season, anything with loft should be easy pickings.
“We’re going to have our eyes on the quarterback more to give us more chance to make more plays on the ball,” Okudah said. “Hopefully that turnover number can increase this year. I have no doubt in my mind that it will increase this year. So I’m just excited to see how that all plays out.”