Morning Conversational: What Does Al Washington Want on First Down?

Al Washington Ohio State Buckeyes Linebacker Coach

Today’s Topic: What Does Al Washington Want From His Linebackers On First Down?

The number one goal of every defense is to stop the run. If you can stop the run, the opposing offense becomes one-dimensional, and when an offense is one-dimensional, it is usually easier to stop.

While Ohio State has undergone a philosophical change at linebacker this offseason, nothing has changed in terms of the goals of those linebackers, especially on first down.

“Stop the run,” said linebacker coach Al Washington. “You take the Mike and Will, those guys have to be fundamentally excellent because they’re close to the ball. We’re a fundamentally focused unit, so we talk about leverage, we talk about footwork, we talk about hands, all of those things, tackling. So you’re looking for guys who buy into that and have built a mastery of that.”

Leverage was an issue last year for the entire Ohio State defense, as evidenced by a national-worst six rushes of 70 or more yards allowed. The defense struggled to force running backs back inside simply because there was often wide swaths of the field with no linebackers anywhere near the ball. At times, they never had any leverage to actually lose.

Placing the linebackers in positions to succeed would be a step in the right direction this year, especially on first down when the opponent is more likely to run the ball.

But that’s just part of it. Scheme and playcalling can only do so much. A defense still has to have the players to get it done.

“Then you have to be instinctive,” Washington said. “You’ve got to be able to use your eyes, you’ve got to read your keys, and you’ve got to be able to act on it, so instincts are big. And guys that love contact. So if you’re looking for characteristics, those are the kind of things we’re looking for. And obviously you’ve got to be able to run, but everybody here can run.”

Tackling was an issue with the Buckeye linebackers last season, which is something that was worked on every day in spring ball.

The implementation of the new defensive scheme began this spring, but stopping the run on first-and-10 was worked on as well by Washington’s constant stressing of physicality and brute force.

“You want guys who love contact, that just seek it,” Washington said. “Those types of characteristics you like. Those are the kinds of things you look for in those positions. Been fortunate to be around some really good ones, but those guys have got to be missiles and they’ve got to love it. You guys know it. They’re physical and they can run, and they buy into fundamentals.”

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