Day One of the Ohio State Coaches Clinic Was a Defensive Showcase

Jeff Hafley Ohio State Football Buckeyes

Thursday was the first day of the 88th annual Ohio State coaches clinic, which sees high school football coaches from Ohio and beyond being taught techniques and insights that the Buckeyes use every single day in practice.

The four featured speakers on the night were the four Ohio State coordinators — Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison on defense, and Kevin Wilson and Mike Yurcich on offense.

Each of the four presented for 40-50 minutes about what they do on a daily basis with their players, imparting onto the assembled high school coaches plenty of wisdom on how to get the most out of their players.

After the first night, each of the OSU coaches then held “chalk talk” sessions where the high school coaches could then ask questions about a particular blitz, or how to maximize the wheel route, or how the Buckeyes run their RPOs. Refreshments and wings were then made available after the the chalk talk.

Each coach was then invited to Friday morning’s practice where they would be on the field watching their respective positions in a nearly hands-on approach.

Because the offensive and defensive sessions were going on at the same time, I decided to stay with Hafley and Mattison, and what follows are some notes that I took that I found interesting.

Greg Mattison Stressing Attitude

Mattison began his presentation by stating something that Ryan Day has stressed, “Attitude is everything.” The proper attitude is one of 4-6, A-B. No matter your philosophy or your Xs and Os, Mattison said if you can instill the proper attitude, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

“It’s not lip service. It’s not a slogan.”

To prove his point, Mattison pulled up random practice clips of the defensive line and showed the audience the effort that was taking place.

Mattison said he didn’t look at these clips before hand, he just knew that defensive line coach Larry Johnson would have his guys doing it the right way.

“Get your players to buy in to 4-6, A-B. That is the cornerstone and the most important thing we talk about with our philosophy.”

Mattison then showed clips of sophomore middle linebacker Teradja Mitchell and senior defensive end Jonathon Cooper running from point A to point B and giving the requisite 4-6 seconds of relentless effort.

He then talked a bit about special teams, recalling a story from his time at Florida as Urban Meyer’s co-defensive coordinator. Meyer pointed out that the starting free safety was good enough to start on defense, but not good enough to start on special teams.

Meyer asked him, “What does that tell you?”

Mattison then went on to stress that starters must be on special teams, and then showed some clips of Cooper working on the punt team, as well as Pete Werner working on punt block protection.

He also then made sure to point out special teams coach Matt Barnes and how excited he was during these drills. He stressed the importance of coaches being excited about what they are teaching.

Mattison then moved on to tackling and pursuit.

“Do you practice tackling or do you talk about it?”

He then went on to show clips, saying that OSU practices their tackling constantly, but in a controlled manner.

Regarding the allowance of big plays, Mattison said that stopping them is impossible. Offenses are too capable in today’s game, and aided by the up-tempo and spread. Limiting the big plays is the key.

In order to limit the big plays, you have to change up your scheme.

“If you’re running the same scheme all the time, [the offense] will find ways [to make you pay].”

Defenses should switch between zone and man so that offenses can’t rely on a defense doing what they want them to do.

The lesson about pursuit was particularly interesting.

“Never follow your own jersey in pursuit.”

He showed a clip of an outside run to the right and pointed out Chase Young and Davon Hamilton, who were on the opposite side of the play. Hamilton chased the play, but took a slightly different angle than the defender in front of him, pointing downfield more in case the guy in front of him didn’t get there. Young then took a slightly different angle than Hamilton, in case Hamilton wasn’t able to get there.

Mattison also pointed out a linebacker who wasn’t taking enough of a different angle and it was obvious watching it on the tape because he was basically just following in the steps of the guy in front of him. The point of the drill being that if the guy in front can’t get to him, then the guy in back has no shot taking the same angle.

With everyone running toward the sideline, having a defender run behind another defender would be like having two guys in the same lane covering a kick return, which then leaves another lane open if a tackle is missed.

Mattison also spent some time talking about the defensive line and the need to push an offense back and “Get a new white line.”

Their goal is to move the line of scrimmage backwards every time. They don’t want to go east and west and keep the same line of scrimmage as the play before.

Jeff Hafley On Press Man Coverage

Hafley’s presentation was on teaching press man coverage, which was mainly stressing footwork and punching.

The sheer amount of focus on footwork was eye opening. By the end of the presentation, however, he could show clips of his cornerbacks and ask the crowd what a player did wrong, and each time it was clear. Whether it was too wide of a step or crossing over one foot in front of the other, it was obvious what was wrong and why it would negatively impact a defensive snap.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing for Buckeye fans, however, was that in two instances of “wrongs,” the players — Damon Arnette (wide step) and Cameron Brown (crossing his left foot over his right foot when turning to his right, rather than stepping back with his right foot and turning) — were able to stay with their respective receivers and then turn and look back for the ball.

He also mentioned the fact that Brown “can fly” which helped him recover.

Hafley began his presentation by saying he used to be an off-coverage guy but has come around to being a press guy because it disrupts the timing of the play and also limits a receiver’s route tree options.

Understanding the route tree and a receiver’s options were also big, and it’s been something he has been teaching his players.

Basically, if there is a free safety in the middle of the field, he wants his cornerbacks to understand that it’s very unlikely a receiver is going to run a route towards that safety. This then cuts off a couple of branches from the route tree and allows the corners to worry more about the receiver staying near the sideline for a comeback or a “go ball.”

Hafley also talked about corners keeping their shoulders down. He showed a clip of Jeff Okudah drilling early this spring and how high his shoulders were compared to clips from more recent sessions where he is lower and more compact, which also allows him to be stronger and more explosive.

There were quite a few “before and after” videos featuring Okudah.

Overall, Hafley seemed very excited about Okudah and Arnette this season, especially with the amount of growth they have shown after just a dozen or so practices.

He showed some clips of his cornerbacks last year with the San Francisco 49ers and said that his guys were already executing at the same level on some of the drills this spring.

Before finishing up by answering questions from coaches in the audience and then demonstrating his coaching techniques with the audience, Hafley went into what they teach about looking back for the ball.

We have already written twice since February that the Buckeyes will be looking back for the ball, and Thursday night Hafley went through the process of teaching it.

Basically, if a receiver has gone about 15-18 yards downfield, a corner should start looking back. Hafley mentioned watching the strides of the receiver and if the strides are getting longer, you know it’s a go route, so take a look back. He also stressed the importance of accelerating while looking back. Most players decelerate when they look back, so they have had to work hard on not losing speed when looking back.

The players have to have a clock in their head of when they need to look back for the ball. He showed several clips of his corners looking back and remarked at its beauty.

Hafley said he wants his corners to look back against “go balls” (deep passes) and then simply become a receiver and go get the ball. He wants them to be aggressive.

If they end up giving up a back shoulder pass or something shorter, that’s better than giving up a deep ball.

He is also teaching his cornerbacks to “punch through” the back shoulder ball. Get the outside arm in the way and either knock the pass down, or rip it out of a receiver’s arm.

What’s Next?

Friday’s schedule includes Matt Barnes coaching fundamentals through special teams, Ryan Day on organizing a game plan, Boston College head coach Steve Addazio on using the bunch package, Greg Studrawa on offensive line fundamentals, Larry Johnson on enhancing your players “the Rushmen way,” Brian Hartline on the traits of an elite receiver, and Al Washington on defeating blocks through confrontation.

One Response

  1. Special Teams, Special Teams, Special Teams. Special teams kept Brendon White off the field until an injury required him to play D. And then, Holy Toledo, this kid is a superstar in the making. Did you recruit the kid to block for punts or did you recruit the kid to kill QBs, be a 1000 yd rusher or be a possession receiver? I understand the importance of special teams, however, is it so special you throw away a potential All American?

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