It is no longer new news that the Ohio State defense will employ a hybrid linebacker/safety this season, but there are still things that will be learned well into the Buckeyes’ schedule this year.
Termed “the Bullet,” the position this spring was manned by juniors Brendon White and Jahsen Wint. Their role is to essentially provide the Buckeye defense with a safety who can defend the run like a linebacker. Think of it as a full-time nickel defense, and on running downs, the Bullet lines up as one of the three linebackers.
White is listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, while Wint is under that at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, so putting them at linebacker against a power running team like Wisconsin might cause some issues in run defense. And not having them out there against a team like Purdue who will spread the linebackers from sideline to sideline isn’t a great idea either.
Because of their need and niche, exactly how many linebackers will see the field will fluctuate throughout the season. Linebacker coach Al Washington even said this spring that there will be times the Buckeyes have four linebackers playing together. For the most part, however, the Ohio State defense will essentially have two base defenses this year.
“Again, it depends on who you’re playing,” Washington said. “There may be a week where one guy gets more. It’s just part of who you’re playing, what you’re going against. I can just tell you, we’re not going to play four linebackers versus 10 (one tight end, no backs) personnel. That’s not happening. And we’re not playing two linebackers against 12 (one tight end, two backs) or 22 (two tight ends, two backs).
“So it’s who you’re playing and what you’re asking the guy to do. That’s the big thing. And Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley, those guys have been through it all. And so they kind of have in their mind what we ask the guy to do and they go about the business of doing it.”
Given the constant advancement of offenses, defenses have to keep evolving and reacting every year. As offenses become more multiple, defenses have to respond. The inclusion of the Bullet is one of those responses for the Buckeyes.
“You’ve got to. You’ve got to be multiple,” Washington said. “You think about how offenses have changed, and the personnel has changed, you can’t play the same. [Purdue receiver] Rondale Moore is a great example. If you watch that guy, he’s a great example of where the game is headed. You get a guy like that in space, you’ve got to have guys that can do that. It’s just like high school. High school sets the tone usually. But you’ve got to be able to get dirty, though. It’s not all pajamas. You’ve got to get dirty. You want guys that like contact too.”
In other words, you can’t run a dime defense with six defensive backs and still expect to be the physical defense every championship team needs to be. Speaking at this year’s Ohio State coaches clinic, OSU defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said there is no way to stop big plays from happening in today’s game, but you have to continue to find ways to limit the number your defense allows.
Considering how many big plays the Ohio State defense gave up a year ago, any change would be a good one. But moving to a more specialized defensive attack is more of a response to the game overall than simply to what happened with the Buckeyes last year.
In being multiple on defense through the use of the Bullet, the Buckeyes can move from running downs to passing downs against most offenses they see. And yet, if they are facing a team that is going to pound the ball 50 times, they have plans to combat that as well.
One size no longer fits all on defense, so you have to be able to mix and match. But you also have to stay true to your overall defensive philosophy.
“It makes complete sense. It’s like chess, right?” Washington said. “You don’t want to show your hand all the time, but sometimes you get too cute. It’s a fine line. You want to do enough, but you also want to give people a chance to play. That’s the balance. That’s the stress in football defensively.”