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Ohio’s latest football export to the north? Michigan State’s defense

Most avid fans of Ohio State football know Michigan football has long made a living off talent from the Buckeye State. Mark Dantonio has taken up the practice at Michigan State over the past seven years, too, but that’s not all.

Turns out the Spartans’ defensive strategy is a direct import from Ohio as well.

Dantonio, of course, first became well known nationally when the defense he coordinated at Ohio State was an integral part of the Buckeyes’ 2002 national championship season. Dantonio, a Zanesville native who was brought to Columbus by Jim Tressel in 2001, moved the Buckeyes from the imposing, press defense installed by Fred Pagac Sr. in the late 1990s to a scheme built around more zone concepts, though pressuring the quarterback was a key for both men.
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Buckeyes defense banking on more togetherness

One of the biggest topics of the Ohio State football offseason has been rebuilding a defense that regressed as the year went on into one of the worst in memory.

Ohio State defensive line drills
Ohio State defensive line drills

Chris Ash was brought in as a new co-coordinator of the defense and safeties coach, bringing with him an aggressive style of play in the secondary that has fans champing at the bit to see a return of the famed “Silver Bullets” defenses of the past.

The hiring of Ash also brought about a lot of talk about a unified voice among the coaching staff, something that can easily sound like coach-speak but that senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett gave more credence earlier this week when he met with reporters at Big Ten football media days in Chicago.

“We’re gonna be more aggressive, and I think that’s just Coach Ash,” Bennett said. “I think the biggest difference is we’re going to be more together. So instead of blaming people and instead of just trying to be the D-line and then the linebackers and then the safeties and then the corners, we’re the whole defense. We’re the Silver Bullets. I think that’s the biggest change that I’ve noticed. The coaches have been all about defensive unity. That’s the best thing that’s happened to our defense because you have to have everybody together.”

The Buckeyes’ nose tackle went on to say the defense, which I always thought was more plagued by allowing big plays than by the dinks and dunks bemoaned by many fans and sometimes even head coach Urban Meyer, grew apart as the 2013 season went on. That’s not surprising to learn, but it is surprising to hear such an open and honest assessment these days.

“The struggles last year through the end of the year started dividing us,” Bennett said. “Even I was subject to, ‘You know what, let whatever they’re going to do happen, as a D-line, let’s just go to work.’ That was the wrong approach to take. The D-line still ended up doing pretty well, but you have to be there for your brothers and I personally am trying to change that and make sure we include everybody. If something happens on the back end, I look at the D-line and say we need to be better so that doesn’t happen again.’”

Of course this is the time of year when everything looks rosy moving forward and it is easier to admit past mistakes (thanks in no small part to the yet-to-be-tested notion they have been fixed), but it is also worth pointing out this emphasis on togetherness strays from the “Do your 1/11th mantra” that has been preached consistently by Ohio State staffers and players on defense for the past decade or so.

There is certainly room for the two philosophies to coexist, but it will be interesting to see how this continues to develop through preseason camp and the start of the 2014 season.