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Full year in new press coverage allows Ohio State pass defense chance to improve in 2015
By James Vogel
The Buckeye pass defense improved across all fronts through season's end.
Photo by Jim Davidson
 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Chris Ash looks into the eyes of the players he coaches in the Ohio State defensive backs room, he often wants their input on how they can become more like the best pass defense in the NFL.

Huh?

You’re probably saying, “Well, yeah, it seems foolish for them to do anything but try and do that.”

While that’s accurate, what Ash is referring to with the Buckeye secondary is something entirely different. He wants his guys to look to the best football players on the planet and see how easy they make things as a result of their approach.

“I ask our guys this all the time — how does Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks line up in a 4-3, Cover 3 defensive scheme and lead the NFL in total defense?” Ash said Feb. 4 on National Signing Day. “It’s because they’ve got good players that are motivated to play hard, they’re very well coached, they believe in what they’re doing and they’re consistent with what they do.”

The Seahawks led the NFL in pass and total defense each of the last two seasons — a big reason they shut down future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-8 to run away with Super Bowl XLVIII. They had the league's most feared defense during the 2014 season, but fell short earlier this month to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Having stud defensive backs Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas make things pretty easy for defensive coordinator Kris Richard when it comes to stopping their opponent’s passing game.

Ash's press scheme helped Ohio State thwart Oregon.
Photo by Jim Davidson
 

Ohio State’s Doran Grant, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell aren’t exactly on the same level as those guys — the “Legion of Boom” as they call themselves — but grew into Ash’s press coverage scheme by the end of Ohio State’s run at the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.

In Ash’s first season at Ohio State, he, Kerry Coombs, Larry Johnson and Luke Fickell coached the Buckeye pass defense to allow an average of 201.1 passing yards per game. That was good for 29th best in the country — quite a change from the 112th (out of 125 teams) the unit finished a year before when it gave up 268.0 passing yards per game.

“We took a whole lot of defense and we narrowed it down to a much smaller package,” Coombs said on Signing Day. “We taught and trained our guys I think very well in that package. We found and used the strengths of our players and I think that was the strength of the defense.”

It was that basic and consistent mindset that yielded improvement — and a big reason why Ash thinks the group has a good chance to be even better in 2015 than it was in 2014.

“Last year the majority of what we did was new, we’re going to be consistent with what we do, we’re going to develop the players mentally and physically within our system so their knowledge is going to be greater, they’re going to be hopefully able to play faster,” Ash said. “Would that make us look better? Maybe.”

The loss of a future NFL corner in Grant will hurt the Buckeye secondary when it comes to depth, but the three returnees will have another full year of learning and practicing in Ash’s press coverage scheme under their belts. Because of that, it seems logical Ohio State will improve again at defending the pass next season.

“I think Chris has done a great job. I think Larry’s a great addition,” Coombs said, mentioning how both guys came to Columbus prior to the title season. “I love Mike Vrabel and Everett Withers, you’re never going to hear me say anything bad about them, but the structure of what we did now fits us and that’s what’s making a difference.”

Ohio State’s recruited to the in-your-face, smash mouth press coverage style and the guys who played it last year are only going to improve. Just like the Seahawks, the Buckeyes look to improve with another year of doing the same thing over and over.

“I think the thing that will allow us to continue to have success is the consistency with what we do,” Ash said. “But it doesn’t necessarily mean I coached better — we coached consistently, we continue to coach the things that allowed us to be successful this year and in the end hopefully we play better.”

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