The Ohio State defense has featured rotations for years. In 2016 and 2017, four NFL defensive ends rotated, keeping each other fresh.
The thought being that if you’ve got talent, why not play it?
Some positions don’t allow for a rotation, but playing defense at the pace that the Buckeyes want makes rotation paramount.
You can see defensive linemen running off the field after plays as they are replaced by fresh teammates. The Ohio State linebackers also have particular packages that see frequent substitution.
The cornerback rotation appears to be over, but the plan for the front seven looks like constant motion.
“I am a very, very strong believer with the way football goes now, with all the tempo, with what we demand of our defense, and that is you are playing 4 to 6, A to B, as hard and as fast as you can, there’s no such thing as a loaf, and so therefore you’re asking four-down defensive linemen to go as hard and as fast as they can,” OSU defensive coordinator Greg Mattison explained.
“You’re asking three linebackers to go as hard and as fast as they can on every play. If you can’t do that anymore, raise your hand and there’s somebody that we’re getting ready to be able to go in and give you a break, and that’s our deal. That we have the depth and we have enough talent that the next guy that steps up gives you a break. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It means you can come back and be way, way more healthy. Way more vibrant, with way more energy, and then the next guy goes back in again.”
Looking at Ohio State’s depth chart, there could be five or six defensive ends who see the field regularly. Then add in five or six defensive tackles, four or five linebackers, and six or seven defensive backs.
Even on the low end, that’s around 20 players who could be in the rotation and play a starter’s minutes.
While that may sound like a lot and out of the realm of reality, Mattison doesn’t think that number is too far off.
“I do believe that there could be 20, I haven’t looked at the numbers,” he said. “I just know that when I look at people, I go ‘Boy, that’s a second-teamer? That’s a pretty darn good second-teamer.’ And I really believe in this, I believe when you have a really, really good defense, you don’t have a first and second team. You have a first first team and a second first team, and that’s how it’s going to look.”
Mattison’s ideal situation is a defense that allows free substitution and has no drop off. The Buckeyes have been able to accomplish this over the years, but it’s been a bit of a hit-and-miss situation for Mattison in the past.
So far at Ohio State, he is seeing that ideal situation take shape right in front of his eyes.
“When Chase Young gets tired from going as hard as he can go, all he has to do with [defensive line coach] Larry [Johnson] is just raise his hand and there’s the next guy that has worked as hard as he could through spring and in summer and in camp, he’s now ready to go in,” Mattison said. “And the same thing at linebacker. So there aren’t such a thing such as first and second any more, in my opinion. It’s more a first team and second first team.”