For the third year in a row, the members of the Ohio State secondary are getting used to new coaches and new techniques.
The safeties have gone from Greg Schiano to Alex Grinch to now the collective conscience of Jeff Hafley and Matt Barnes. The cornerbacks, meanwhile, have seen Kerry Coombs and Taver Johnson come and go over the last three years, and now they too are learning under Hafley and Barnes.
Every coach has their particular style. Some scream. Some cuss. Some scream and cuss.
Eventually it doesn’t take long for the players and coaches to become close, either by choice or by duty.
As the players learn new techniques, they also learn about their coaches, and they have learned plenty about co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley so far.
“Yeah, he definitely sets a clear standard and that’s what I like about him the most,” said senior safety (and New Jersey native) Jordan Fuller. “But he’s so smart and he always has an answer for a problem you’re having. So that’s what I like the best and he’s just a great guy, a Jersey guy too.”
Fuller is not alone in his opinion, and he’s not even been healthy enough yet to practice.
“He’s a great coach. I love him,” said redshirt sophomore safety/cornerback/nickel back/utility hammer Shaun Wade. “He teaches technique. He’s hard on you, but everybody makes mistakes. He understands football really well.”
Hafley isn’t just teaching technique, he’s also having to teach a new defense.
“We’ve kind of changed the technique up,” Wade said. “Staying patient at the line, that’s what we’ve really been working on. Doing some off-man stuff, just changing it up. Everything is kind of different. They’re teaching us zone, so I know what the linebackers are doing, I know where the safeties are going to be. I felt last year, we didn’t know that. We didn’t know where our help was.”
Last year, the Ohio State defense knew the hows, but didn’t necessarily know the whys. This year, Hafley and the rest of the defensive staff are trying to bring a greater understanding of the purposes of the players’ assignments.
“I think we definitely understood what to do in cover-3, but we didn’t understand the intricacies of cover-3,” said junior cornerback Jeff Okudah. “So just knowing that now gives us a better chance to make plays.”
One could argue that there were too many hows last season to even get into the whys, and had Schiano and his staff tried, things may have been even worse in the back seven.
The way Hafley has approached this process has impressed his players. And when he talks about technique and why he wants them to do certain things in certain ways, it’s apparent that his time in the NFL has allowed him to see quite a bit.
“Yeah, definitely,” Okudah said. “The same way, looking at high school things to me right now would be pretty easy, for him looking at college formations and things like that, he’s able to pick up on little things that the offense gives away. We go over it in meetings since the secondary is all together, and we attack it the next day.”
“For instance, when offenses condense their formation, they’re always condensing their formation to expand,” Okudah explained. “So you might get a lot of out-breaking routes. As far as zone-wise, when you get two going in, you get the dig by number one. When you get number one hitch up, you might get the fade by number two. So just realizing that stuff, you’re able to play really smart and put yourself in position to make a lot of plays.”
This hasn’t been an easy transition for any of the players, but Hafley and Barnes have made it as painless as possible. The players deserve just as much of that credit as the coaches.
In the end, they’re all working towards the same goal, and the lessons now will be routine this fall.
Or at least that’s the plan.
“Going from Coach Schiano and Coach (Taver) Johnson to Coach Hafley and Barnes, I feel like at first, it was unfortunate to have your third coach in three years,” Okudah said.
“But then at the end of the day, you realize how smart Coach Hafley is. Coach Day told us when he hired him that he’d be one of the best coaches we’ve ever had. And so far it seems like that’s been the case. He’s a really high-energy guy, his energy is actually pretty contagious. Just the drills that he’s implemented so far, everyone is getting better every single day.”