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Buckeye Football Notebook: 'The Most Important Thing is to Get to the Quarterback'
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS — Nicknames are a popular thing among the Ohio State position groups. The offensive line lovingly refers to themselves as "The Slobs", and the Buckeye receivers are known as "Zone 6", in reference to the endzone where they so frequently find themselves.

The Buckeye defensive line is no different.

"We embrace what we call 'R2X'," explained defensive line coach Larry Johnson. "That’s 'Rushmen to the X', and that simply means get to the quarterback. Everything that we put on the board or on the ground is an 'X'. So we’ve kind of adopted that name in our room, called 'R2X', and we call ourselves 'The Rushmen', so we kind of use that term to define who we are."

When Larry Johnson came to Ohio State he brought a mentality that every snap was about being aggressive and fighting to get into the backfield and getting to the quarterback. If that aggression is done right, then it will also be able to stop any running game that comes its way as well.

As long as the Rushmen get to the 'X', then everything else will take care of itself.

"I think it’s so important that kids understand, the most important thing is to get to the quarterback," he said. "Get to the launch pad, and the 'X' is the launch pad. Get to where he is going to settle. No matter what it takes, get there. So we started training that mentality. No matter what it takes, get to the 'X', and our kids really embraced it in this camp trying to do that. You could see them fighting, scratching, clawing, hitting their hands trying to get to the 'X' because that’s the ultimate goal, so it’s kind of neat to watch that happen."

The Buckeyes are returning only one truly experienced tight end this season in redshirt senior Nick Vannett, which makes it very important that redshirt sophomore Marcus Baugh steps up and gives Ohio State a second tight end that they can rely on for their two tight end sets.

Behind Baugh are two true freshman — Rashod Berry and A.J. Alexander. Both are still very much in the process of learning their positions, which requires much more of them than anything they did in high school.

Will A.J. Alexander or Rashod Berry contribute this year for OSU?
Photo by Jim Davidson

Berry was recruited by many schools as a defensive end, and Alexander was as much a wide receiver in high school as a tight end. Now both are learning entirely new roles, and if the Buckeyes want to go with a third tight end, it will be up to one of them to step forward.

"The thing is both of those guys were really kind of non-traditional tight ends when they were recruited," tight ends coach Tim Hinton said. "You know that going in and you also know there’s a development period for that based on doing only non-traditional tight end things.

"They both work hard and are both great kids. They’re not where we want them to be yet. They’re not where they want to be yet. We throw the world at them here in the first couple of weeks in two-a-days, X and O-wise, structure-wise. You can see them starting to settle in. The game’s slowing down a little bit more for them anyway."

If there is one guy who might be ahead of the other, it would seem that Alexander's athleticism and versatility may give him an edge. Hinton wouldn't commit to one freshman over the other at this point, however.

"He has great ball skills and he does a really nice job," Hinton said of Alexander. "The thing is he’s about 10-and-a-half months out of an ACL. That physical development is coming around every day. That’s why they call you coach, right? You go in and you have fun developing, have fun watching them learn. They don’t like you in the process, but you have fun doing it and that’s why you are a coach, to watch that young guy get to where you want him to be. They’re willing and they’re trying like crazy to get there."

The Ohio State cornerbacks over recent years have played specific boundary (short side of the field) and field (wide side of the field) roles, with the team's most complete cornerback manning the boundary because that gets him closer to the action in the running game as well.

There have been exceptions to those rules over the last couple of years, like when they wanted to match up a specific cornerback with a team's top receiver regardless of where he lined up.

Recently, however, it has been an offense's tempo that has necessitated the move to prepare cornerbacks for both roles. Playing an offense like Oregon does not always allow cornerbacks to switch sides of the field with the shifting of the boundary. With this in mind, Ohio State went into the offseason always preparing as if an up-tempo team was next up on the schedule, and they carried that into practice with them as well.

"The reality is that we are preparing for everybody to be tempo, which makes sense, right," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said.

"If you go back and study we played four or five games where both guys were field and boundary because of the tempo of the offense, so there’s experience that takes place in that path. We’ve approached it that way this summer so that both guys feel comfortable in both roles. So you don’t have necessarily where we started three years ago with a specific guy doing that job."

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