Each year there are stories written about college football players being excited about the new offensive or defensive systems being installed.
There are also stories written about players being excited about the long-time offensive or defensive systems in which they are currently playing.
By their nature, college athletes are an optimistic group — at least when speaking with the media.
But when members of the 2019 Ohio State defense talk about their excitement regarding their new defense, you can understand why it is more than just lip service paid to a gaggle of reporters.
There is only one holdover from last year’s defensive coaching staff, which tells you that it was definitely time for a change.
Head coach Ryan Day brought in Jeff Hafley and Matt Barnes to control the secondary, and Al Washington and Greg Mattison to handle the linebackers. Mattison, Hafley, and veteran OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson came up with what they believed would be the best path forward for this defense.
The defensive line likes that they can attack again. The linebackers like that there isn’t as much thinking. And, of course, the secondary’s memory is too short to recall what even took place last season.
The normal optimism for every team — especially in the spring — was present with the Ohio State defense this spring. Because of all of the changes that took place, however, the excitement here could carry a bit more weight.
“I feel really good,” junior defensive end Chase Young said last month. “The new coaches are saying all good things. They’re giving us all great schemes. I think we fell in love with the scheme and it helps us fall in love — they’re new, so it helps us fall in love with the coaches. They made the scheme around the talent we have on the team.”
But it wasn’t just the defensive line changes that Young is happy with.
“I’m just happy the DBs have a lot more confidence,” he said. “I was concerned last year, they just weren’t playing like they wanted to play. They didn’t seem to feel like they wanted to feel. But you look at them in spring practice and you see them smiling, talking smack, taking on those receivers. That’s just what I like to see. That’s what a DB is. I’m really confident in them. I think they’re going to ball out this year.”
Young being so concerned about the secondary isn’t unusual. The pass rush is the first component of a pass defense, after all. A great defensive end makes life easier on the cornerbacks. And great coverage gives the defensive line more time to get to the quarterback.
They operate together with a singular purpose, and the defensive line’s purpose is different than it was a year ago. When the defensive brain trust met to devise their scheme, Larry Johnson wanted his players to get back to doing what they do best, which has Young excited as well.
“Just because they’re letting us go play,” he said. “We’re not slanting inside, slanting outside, or stuff like that. He’s just letting us go.”
Every level of the defense is echoing Chase Young. We will find out this season if those echoes are hollow, but based on last season, just about any change will be a good change.
“It feels really good,” Young said. “You’re not thinking too much on the field when you’re playing. It’s really basic. The keys are really basic. The job, all of the assignments are really basic. You’ve just got to get the play. So it’s cool.”