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Defensive cohesiveness, tight ends developing in Ohio State football spring practice

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Then-sophomore cornerback Armani Reeves (26) runs off the field during a game against Buffalo Aug. 30 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 40-20. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Then-sophomore cornerback Armani Reeves (26) runs off the field during a game against Buffalo Aug. 30 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 40-20.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

It is no secret what the Ohio State football team’s offseason has been focused on: transition.

The team is seeing changes in multiple units as it replaces four offensive linemen, the team’s top running back and wide receiver, and adapts to new coaches on the defensive line and defensive backfield. The latter, however, is likely a high point of interest for Buckeye fans.

Urban Meyer replaced departed co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers — who was announced as the head coach at James Madison University Dec. 20 — with Chris Ash, and questions arose how Ash’s defensive philosophy would mesh with holdover and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.

That movement has arrived with a widespread defensive theme of “4-6, A-B,” — playing hard for four to six seconds and going just as hard from point A to point B — which is why Coombs said working with Ash has been “awesome.”

“I know you guys are getting tired of hearing ‘power of the unit’ and ‘4-6 seconds,’ but here’s the reality: If that is what is truly important, and it becomes important to our players that 11 guys show up at the ball and it doesn’t really matter which number gets there first — in fact maybe it matters which number gets there last,” Coombs said following practice Thursday. “And our guys are playing like that … It just feels good, and more like a family and more like a unit.”

To put it bluntly, the OSU pass defense wasn’t very good last year — it finished 112th in the country after giving up an average 268 yards per game.

Ash also brings a new way to start defending the pass, one that involves more press coverage than OSU played last year.

“It wasn’t our base concept,” Coombs said of playing press coverage in 2013. “It was an adjustment. Now it is our base alignment and we will adjust off of that. So in order to do that, you gotta do that. So you notice every snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage.”

Coombs also spoke highly of junior cornerback Armani Reeves, saying he plays harder than anyone on the unit. Reeves said the way Coombs and Ash balance the workload between themselves has been “good.”

“There’s no individual doing the whole thing. It’s all a collective group, from (senior cornerback) Doran (Grant) being the senior leader of the whole secondary, all the way down to the freshmen learning, trying to get their way on the field. It’s all part of being the team,” Reeves said Thursday. “We’ve all got to be in this together.”

While the tight end position does not have nearly the amount of turnover as the defensive backfield or offensive line unit, starter and senior Jeff Heuerman is out six weeks after having surgery on his foot earlier this week. Enter in redshirt-junior Nick Vannett and redshirt-freshman Marcus Baugh, who tight ends coach Tim Hinton said have been getting more snaps since in practice since Heuerman went down. That, Hinton said, is helping immensely in their development.

“The beauty of it is, the way we practice is you’re going to get a lot of reps,” Hinton said Thursday. “Nick’s had a phenomenal spring so far and obviously getting a few more reps that Jeff’s a little nicked up. Each of those reps are opportunities to get better and improve.

“Marcus is a young guy that’s gotta learn to do everything well. He’ll have spurts where he does some things really well, then he has spurts where he looks like a doggone freshman … He battles, he fights and he doesn’t complain he just tries to make himself better. I’m very, very proud of him.”

Vannett said Thursday that although it might appear he has been maturing faster without Heuerman in front of him, a lot of what he does to improve comes from within.

“I want the best for myself, I’m a competitive person and my goals are, I want to be the best tight end that goes through Ohio State and that’s just the pride I have in myself,” Vannett said.

Regardless of how the defensive backs are doing as they get used to the Ash-Coombs bond, Coombs said he hasn’t seen any indication that last year’s poor performance is haunting them.

“They’re energetic, I don’t think that they’re down in the dumps, I think they’re playing their butts off,” Coombs said. “I think they have a chip on their shoulder. And I think they should.”

OSU continues to prepare for its annual spring game, this year set for April 12 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes are scheduled to open their 2014 campaign Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore against Navy. Kickoff is set for noon.


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