“We’re a press-man team.”
Those words have been spoken by Ohio State defensive coaches since 2014 when Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash to fix his defense.
Having been broken again, it was Ryan Day’s turn to bring in a new defensive staff to fix the Buckeyes. Day went out and hired Jeff Hafley and Matt Barnes to handle the secondary and added Greg Mattison and Al Washington to the front seven with Larry Johnson.
Much has been written about the plans for the Ohio State defensive scheme. It will be simplified. It will be aggressive. And it cannot possibly be any worse than it was a year ago.
Every level of the defense will be undergoing changes, including a group of cornerbacks who have only ever known press-man coverage.
While that experience will help them, there will be more coverages to learn because Hafley isn’t interested in offenses knowing what is coming from play to play.
Against offenses with multiple ways to attack, giving them a predictable look in the back seven seems more like a favor than anything else.
The Buckeyes will still press, but they’ll be doing other things from time to time as well.
“I think that we are still going to press people,” Hafley said. “I totally believe in pressing, especially in man-situations, especially with some of the guys that we have that are really long and very talented. I just think that you have to mix things up. I think you have to give corners the ability to zone off and be able to play off the quarterback to try and go make some plays rather than just being in man all the time.”
Over the last few years, the Buckeyes were able to press all game long because they had a rotation of three cornerbacks. That tactic does not look like it carried forward for Hafley, who has consistently employed fifth-year senior Damon Arnette and junior Jeff Okudah as his top two corners on defense.
Without that rotation, a move away from pressing all game also makes sense.
“I also think you get tired playing man the whole game,” Hafley said. “You have got to protect those guys sometimes and mix it up and make the quarterbacks think.”
Providing a look of man coverage and then bailing out at the snap of the ball causes the quarterback to re-think the mental processes he just went through prior to the snap. Every little bit of a delay helps.
For coaches, coverage preferences come down to personal preferences and also personnel preferences. Some coaches like press man because it slows a quarterback down because receivers aren’t going to be as open as they’d like as quickly as they’d like. Off coverage — or even a zone coverage — allows the cornerbacks to keep an eye on the quarterbacks, which theoretically leads to more interceptions.
Each of these styles has its merits, which is why Hafley plans to use them all.
“I think what you will see, you guys understand, most of your interceptions in man coverage come from pressure and tipped balls,” he explained. “In zone coverage, you give a guy a chance to read the quarterback and kind of see routes, anticipate, break, and go get the football.”
But there is also the danger of giving an offense exactly what they want to see, which can sometimes lead to 62-39 losses.
“The way that the game has developed, you see all of these crossers and pick routes and we can’t just let our guys go in there and just get knocked around the whole game either,” he said. “So we have got to be able to mix it up.”