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Communication in the OSU Secondary Clear as a Bell, and a Powell
By Tony Gerdeman
The OSU secondary is expected to run quite smoothly in 2015.
Photo by Jim Davidson

COLUMBUS — If communication is a two-way street, then the plan for the Ohio State secondary this season is to have the smoothest-flowing traffic pattern in town.

Of course, in a city known for its large number of orange barrels, that shouldn't be too difficult.

The reason communication is so important for a secondary is because cornerbacks and safeties have to be on the same page with each other constantly, not unlike second basemen and shortstops in baseball. They are tied together. They need to know what the other is doing so they themselves know what to do.

Every single defense is essentially a computer program in action. "If this, then this" is the practice on every single play. If a receiver does this, then the cornerback does this. For the Buckeye secondary, that program begins with the safeties.

"Here’s what you want as a corner — you want clarity," cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs explained this spring. "Coach [Meyer] talks about clarity of purpose all the time. So everything that we’re doing out there is being driven by something, and somebody’s in charge of it.

"In our system it’s the safeties. So if I’m the corner, I want clarity from my safety. I love a guy who looks over there and says, ‘This’, whatever it is, and he knows because now I know he knows what he’s doing, right? And that communication is invaluable. If you’ve got a guy who looks at you and he’s not sure, that’s not fun."

Ohio State has had their share of poor communication over the last four seasons, and that even included a few plays late last season when the Buckeye defense was playing at its best. Broken plays and busted coverages will never go away entirely, especially against talented opponents.

While OSU hasn't completely eliminated these big plays, they aren't nearly the issue that they once were. Despite playing in the most games last season, the Buckeye defense gave up the second-fewest number of 20-yard receptions (24) in the nation.

Click here for licensed OSU sports photos.

Ohio State allowed 125 receptions of at least 10 yards last season, but because of the level of communication, 101 of those receptions were stopped almost immediately. This is one byproduct of press coverage. Another is that the Buckeyes also allowed five receptions of at least 60 yards, which was 118th in the nation. (TCU gave up eight such receptions a year ago, which was the most in the nation.)

Basically, Ohio State is okay taking the bad with the good, especially when there is so much more good than bad.

"If I’m a corner, if I’m Eli Apple, and I look over and whether it’s Vonn or Tyvis, and we’re having that communication, man that’s exciting," Coombs said. "That confidence breeds confidence, and I don’t think the guys in my room lack it. So right now you’ve got a bunch of guys that feel good about playing with each other."

A year ago at this time, the Buckeyes had a secondary that believed they knew what they were doing, but they still had to think about it a bit. Now a second year into this defense, the thinking is no longer taking the same amount of time that it used to.

Decisions are made quickly and confidently, and the lack of doubt in a leader can go a very long way.

"That confident safety, that general, the leader, a guy who stands out there and directs traffic with clarity, it makes a corner’s life wonderful," Coombs said. "It makes all of our lives wonderful, and they’re doing a great job of it."

Player profiles relevant to story:
11 - Bell, Vonn | 13 - Apple, Eli | 23 - Powell, Tyvis | Coach - Coombs, Kerry
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