Yeah, it was only one day, but the Buckeyes’ DBs had a definite different look as they opened spring practice this week.
In his “10 players to watch at the 2014 NFL Combine” for the National Football Post, Dave Miller compares former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron to Andy Dalton, saying that he has a chance to have a beginning of a career similar to the Bengals quarterback. That’s an interesting way to put it I would say because Dalton’s early career has been very admirable. The big question now is where he and the Bengals go from here.
Better quarterbacks have had great careers that didn’t start off as well as Andy Dalton, although there are other good quarterbacks especially recently who have had as good or better starts than him from a numbers perspective.
Dalton is an interesting case because he doesn’t have the physical tools that create high early expectations for somebody like a Matthew Stafford or a Cam Newton, but now he’s won enough, in part because of him and in part because the situation created by the Bengals suddenly learning now to draft over the past five years or so, that the expectations are very high just the same.
So nearly a week has passed since Ohio State lost 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The end of football season always comes about suddenly – like ejecting from a plane, it brings a floating feeling before landing somewhere that never feels quite as familiar as it should upon returning to ground level. Even though it was predestined to happen this week if not sooner, it still brings a shock to the system.
I like to give life a few days to get back to normal, but then again sometimes I wonder if football season is the norm and the rest is just passing time.
What we learned last week: How hollow 24-0 can be, at least when it becomes 24-1.
The Buckeyes won all their games for two regular seasons, but they have no national championships or even Big Ten championships to show for it.
Yes, they can claim two of the three Leaders Division titles of all time (I think there’s even a trophy for that), but has anyone ever considered those anything more than consolation prizes?
The past two seasons weren’t all for naught, of course.
When Urban Meyer officially took over in January 2012, Ohio State had lost four consecutive games, after all, and the Buckeyes’ reputation was in a state of disrepair.
Many felt it wouldn’t take a miracle to fix the program, but there was certainly work to do.
“Because it feels good to be a missile, even when it leads to my destruction. We all know how the big story ends. If I don’t die on the field, I promise you I’ll die off of it.”
That is the conclusion of the latest in a series from MMQB examining the concussion crisis facing football – Nate Jackson discusses life after concussions as an ex-NFL player | The MMQB with Peter King.
This is the third piece out of the series I have read, and they have all been interesting. Continue reading
Previously I posted remarks from Urban Meyer as well as assistants Kerry Coombs and Tom Herman.
Here is what Mike Vrabel had to say about how they teach leverage and preventing big plays:
OSU defines explosive plays as runs of 15 yards or more and passes of 20 yards or more. Vrabel showed an internal study that found they have averaged allowing 15 explosive runs per season in the past 12 years, then noted the 2011 team that finished 6-7 gave up 25. In contrast, the 2009 team that won the Rose Bowl only allowed nine. (NOTE: They count bubble screens and the like as runs.)
They stress five things in teaching players how to play defense: effort, leverage, tackle, retrace and pursuit.
Effort is covered by the of-repeated mantra from Meyer about going hard for 4-6 seconds every play. The don’t coach effort – they demand it. Meyer runs a high-energy program. They want to get guys out of their comfort zone and don’t mind keeping guys on edge.
For part of this section, he put Ohio State’s goal line stand at Wisconsin last season on the big screen to emphasize that really only effort was going to make that happen. The offense is going to scheme up something to cover gaps and get a yard, so someone has to whip somebody’s ass and make a play. The Montee Ball fumble was made possible by guys up front winning their battles so someone could meet him at the pile and knock the ball away.
Leverage is the most important concept. They only need one leverage guy, though. One person turns the play back in and everyone else should be running to the ball.
Every day they do a leverage drill with four parts – string out, “hat and hands”, “rip and run” and angle tackle. Stringing out the play and angle tackling are self-explanatory. “Hat and hands” is what they call delivering a two-handed blow to the blocker and controlling him to establish position. “Rip and run” is what happens when they brush by a blocker either in pursuit or to get to an outside point to turn a play back in if no one has leverage. (So engage the blocker to maintain leverage abut rip and run to get it back if lost.)
Defensive backs, linebackers and linemen all practice all of these drills, and coaches should see them expressed in games or that means they aren’t being done correctly.
Of course then tackling was a big emphasis. He put up a chart showing a 12-year study that revealed they have averaged 9.7 missed tackles per game in that span. The number in 2002 was 8.2. In 2011, it was 12.5.
They break tackles down into three categories: in the box, angle and open field. Obviously, angle are the easiest and open field are the hardest. That is why the offense – especially now – wants to create open field opportunities.
OSU coaches expect leverage and effort. They coach up tackling by emphasizing keeping the ball on the outside shoulder, breaking down 3-4 yards from impact (too soon gives the ball carrier too much time to change direction), coming to balance in a football position and getting a guy on the ground.
In the open field, they don’t care about blowing a guy up. That’s not the time to do it. Just get him down. They also tell guys, “Don’t go off the diving board,” meaning keep proper football position – reverse arch the back, feet shoulder width apart, head and chest up, shoulders pinched.
Retrace is for dealing with things like screens. It’s how they teach players to recover after getting pressure. For defensive linemen, they work on planting the feet, pointing playside and driving down the line of scrimmage while keeping low hips.
Pursuit is simple – run with great effort to the ball, having confidence everyone is doing their job. That means someone has established leverage and everyone else just has to clean up.
If the sun has turned to sweltering in Ohio, you know football season must be around the corner.
If humidity nears triple digits, transcending sweaty all the way into sticky and uncomfortable, the preseason camps must be under way. And all is again right with the world.
After those boring acclimatization days and interminable hours of walk-throughs and conditioning sprints, the pads go back on and the time to hit is renewed.
Nowhere else can you find that sanctioned violence, the encouraged ferocity with just enough protection to let inhibitions fall away. A wonderfully unconscious moment sandwiched by fear and joy then rushing thrills of adrenaline. Perhaps a little pain. Even when you get the best of it, a reverberation comes back your way. A worthwhile and welcome sacrifice…
Even now, the smell of dewy grass alerts my nostrils to tell my brain it’s time for football practice. Then I get a little wistful.
Most of the time, I don’t miss the soreness and the bruises.
I’m always thankful I still get to at least talk football every day of the fall, and I don’t have to shirk duties at work to do so. This is exactly what I wanted to do when I reasoned that I may as well combine sports and writing to try to make a living.
That was in junior high. In 8th grade we had to pick a profession to study for a project, and I pragmatically landed on sportswriter because I like to write and I like sports. I can’t remember how long that was after I had realized Division I colleges don’t take 5-11, 210-pound offensive linemen, even if they love the game and can play a stand-up end in the old Oklahoma 50 defense, too. Later, I decided rather than pursue a D-III opportunity my time would be better spent getting started on the writing thing full time. (Again with the pragmatic approach.…)
I usually thought a little more than I should have on the field, too. I remember my brain sometimes slowing down my feet. I wasn’t a big hitter, at least not without a good setup, but I could usually get the job done. It’s easier to be crafty in Division VI because anyone who’s just too big to handle was generally too slow to do anything about a trap block. Angles were my best friend. So Woody’s offense still worked then if you executed it, and my old coach used it long enough to win nearly 250 games.
It was a pretty thing to watch those traps break open in the middle of the line, too. Or to see the defense finally wear down and the “Fullhouse 34” break for a long one. I still remember the adrenaline rush in the fourth quarter, even when almost all of us played both ways.
Then the locker room was so sublime afterward. A few yells of joy and exultations to beat the next opponent, then sighs of relief another ‘W’ was in hand as the bruises started to surface and soreness set in.
That was truly living. Now I’m just trying to have a life.
I’d love to go back but not to trade in today. That wasn’t a better time, just a different kind of good. There is no denying 2012 has been a tough year for me personally. I’ve endured some setbacks, but still I have a lot to be thankful for.
I always felt the football field was a place a young person, so far from really having accomplished anything, could really feel like he’d built a life. There was something unspoken and intangible built by our teams, and I suspect that is the case most places. That was our answer to the big presentation that gets an adult that big promotion at work. There were few better ways to really accomplish something at 16, with life still being laid out before us.
What training grounds those were, east of the school and north of Route 42.
How the sunset bathed the field in light you might find on a movie set, and what a surreal saffron picture it painted for a couple of hours on five Friday nights each fall.
The playoffs always began after the end of daylight savings time, so the sun had long ago gone down. Maybe that had some purpose, some way of reminding us we’d reached a new challenge, to be happy with the earlier goals we’d achieved and set our sights on something new, something we’d never attain but that we were happy to fight for anyway. Our winnings felt more permanent that way. The season was no less meaningful, the losses no less painful, but we knew there were just different sets of goals and we could be happy with them all.
I was not happy when the lights went out for the last time. That was tough. The tears flowed long and naturally in the old locker room at the big concrete stadium in Troy after a playoff loss to Marion Local, the eventual state champion.
I got home from my last game and found my college acceptance letter had come that day. What a fitting irony. The type of perfect transition for which I’m often searching now when I try to piece together quotes and facts for the next story I’m writing.
I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into then, but I can take solace in seeing how well things came together after the fact, like a 32 fullback trap where the tackle sealed off the ‘backer and the other guard shoved aside the nose guard and the defensive tackle who thought he’d lucked into something big saw just a second too late me coming from his left, and that fullback cut back just off my butt to gallop toward the goal line.
I often still wish I’d been more decisive then so I could have made more plays (defensively, especially) but I’m glad I was there anyway.
Now those dilemmas play out in their own real world way, but I’m happy to be in the game in my own way.
Another season awaits. Hope you’ll follow along. Should be a hell of a journey.
Isn’t it always?
Today is the first day of the rest of the Ohio State football program’s life.
I certainly would not mind having been a fly on the wall at Urban Meyer’s first meeting with the Buckeyes and his coaching staff. Seeing how he changes the culture and the attitude of the football team should be fascinating.
A decade is a long time to do anything. There were a lot of positives that came from the Jim Tressel era, but there is much excitement involved in seeing what else is out there. That’s especially true when the new guy is as good or better than the one he is replacing, but let’s not pretend like there’s at least a bit of “the grass is always greener” phenomenon involved as well.
Meyer takes over after not only a disappointing season but one of the worst overall years in program history. A lot of pain piled up in Columbus as a result of players repeatedly taking extra benefits, Tressel covering up some of it and those above him bungling their reaction to the whole thing.
The Buckeyes suffered their first losing season in more than two decades. Their seventh and final defeat came in the Gator Bowl at the hands of Meyer’s former team, Florida, and that provided one more interesting subplot.
Tyler Moeller, the only player on either side left over from the 41-14 massacre Meyer and the Gators administered in the BCS National Championship game five years ago, called this Florida team classless after seeing them take some swings at him as well as hearing an abundance of what he called racial slurs from them during the game. While the outgoing senior was understandably upset, I doubt he’ll give it much more thought because he has bigger and better things to do now that he has used up his eligibility and graduated.
The fact that Meyer recruited many of the Gators being labeled classless cannot be ignored, though. It makes one wonder a little bit more about the circumstances that led him to leave Florida last year.
It’s entirely possible having unwittingly brought in those types of kids helped drive Meyer away. Any coach will tell you that you only get to know so much about a player in recruiting. There is always a lot of mystery until you actually coach them. I’ve talked to many a Buckeye from Florida who took pride in associating swagger and trash talk with their state. They see it as an essential part of competition. That was something plain to see in the recent past when Florida, Miami and Florida State were regularly featured in national showcase games taunting and cheap-shotting their way through their rivalry games.
Winning is winning, and they don’t ask you how but rather how many when the season is over. Lots of people like to see teams go at it that way, but it turns just as many or more off. I like a little bit of mustard on the hot dog, but not too much, and there’s a fine line between bragging and disrespecting.
Now is fleeing a program when faced with too many uncontrollable kids the admirable thing to do? I’d say not, but sometimes we all make decisions we’d like back. There are usually a variety of factors in any such decision, too. Perhaps of Meyer’s health were better or his kids further grown up he would have felt better able to deal with such a problem. Maybe the whole culture of the SEC dragged him down as well, further harpooning thoughts he could turn things around. And maybe it had nothing to do with his decision at all. Only he knows.
I’m only speculating at this point, but it’s an interesting aspect to all this change Ohio State football is about to go through.
There has been a feeling – since about the time Meyer’s 2006 Gators spanked the top-ranked Buckeyes – that Ohio State’s players needed more swagger. I sometimes questioned if they played with enough of an edge, especially when things got close.
As silly as it sounds, did Tressel’s well-known conservatism lead him to bring in too many good kids?
I associated these questions most with the group that made up the core from 2006-08 because they lost all those big out-of-conference games and they were missing some more outgoing personalities like AJ Hawk, Nick Mangold, Santonio Holmes, Donte Whitner, Anthony Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter. Of course given what we’ve seen from some of those guys since they left Ohio State, there is no doubt good and bad to being a big personality.
Many of the guys who followed them were plenty talented but more reserved. There was a real sense – both from them and those around them – that the class of 2008 was going to be different. They had a few more out-of-state kids, a lot of highly rated players and no lack of confidence. At the signing day press conference, J.B. Shugarts talked about winning multiple national championships. Terrelle Pryor told Tressel he would help him get over his national championship hump. Instead, he committed NCAA violations that disgraced the program and put Tressel in position to harpoon his own career.
Now many of those players are gone, and the ones who are left begin to find out today what life will be like under someone new.
Mike Brewster said in late July there was some complacency in the program and some change would do it good. That’s kind of a jarring thought considering the success of the Tressel era, but Brewster is a thoughtful guy whose opinion should carry some weight. I tend to think he’s probably right, and the season that just ended provided plenty of proof.
Whatever the case, change is inevitable and it is at hand. Should be fun seeing what it brings.
I re-watched the Buckeyes’ 17-7 win over the Fighting Illini so you didn’t have to…
The game ball certainly goes to the tailbacks. I counted at least four times Boom Herron or Jordan Hall were dead in the sights of a defensive player but made him miss, either turning a potential loss into a positive play or stretching a short gain into something longer. Both of them have impressive vision, quickness and agility. Zach Boren was his usual destructive self leading the way. He had a heck of a battle with Illinois’ Jonathan Brown, who I think proved himself to be a stud.
I think I owe Jim Bollman an apology for asking why there were no counters. I believe they tried to run one in the first quarter but Miller and Herron ran into each other. Hard to tell who was at fault on that play, but it seems more likely it was the freshman quarterback who made the mistake. They also went with a couple of counter trey’s while running out the clock at the end of the game.
Big shoutout also to the tight ends, who all had really effective moments blocking on the edge. Jake Stoneburner not only showed off his receiving and route running skills on his touchdown catch, he also continues to improve as a blocker.
Both tackles had some problems with the quickness of the Illinois defensive ends, but they also did good things when they could get their hands on those guys. That is particularly true of Mike Adams, who has become more of a road grader than I expected him to because I thought his game was more about athleticism until late last season. Andrew Norwell did not have the best day inside. I think those two are still working on getting on the same page, and he is still getting used to the different angles at guard. Very different style from Illinois than he saw last week against Nebraska. At the other guard, Jack Mewhort had a big challenge against Akeem Spence and did a pretty good job overall.
Not sure if any wide receivers actually took the field. They certainly had no impact. Stoneburner lined up in the slot a lot, and Boren was out there a few times as well. Boren said he played 55 plays, which would be all of them for OSU.
Defensively, you have to take your hat off to Johnny Simon. I marked down 11 plays he had a noticeably positive impact on the play, which is a pretty ridiculously high number for a defensive lineman. He is a stud whose effort was never in question but seems to be gaining skill every week.
Johnathan Hankins was nearly flawless, too. His strength and agility are ridiculous and he makes plays whether the ball is run his way or not.
Really, the whole defensive front played well aside from Solomon Thomas, who made a couple of appearances at Leo or “viper” in the dime defense and looked out of place. Good things from Adam Bellamy and Michael Bennett, however.
The linebackers were much better against the Fighting Illini than the Cornhuskers. Andrew Sweat and Storm Klein were solid while Etienne Sabino had the best game I’ve seen him play. He tackled better and was in better position most of the day.
Illinois definitely a defense built for speed, although there are a handful of guys on the team that seem to have bulked up, too, including both of those ends.
Barnett was almost exclusively the safety in the box while Bryant played deep when he wasn’t at Star. I am interested to know why they did this. I think Barnett is suitably skilled to play both positions, and I wonder if they dropped Bryant to the back to get him to see more of the field and force him to play more under control. Be interesting to see if that was some kind of lesson or if that is a permanent move.
Travis Howard was knocked during the game for giving up a handful of catches, but I think generally that was a result of having to bail in coverage. He looked good pressing A.J. Jenkins a few times and was there for the interception in the fourth quarter. You already know Bradley Roby had a big day.
Finally, I was surprised at how uncomfortable Braxton Miller looked in the pocket, although the pass rush obviously had an effect. I think the lack of opportunities ruined any chance he had of getting into any kind of rhythm. The coaches were wise to respect the wind, as evidenced by Roby’s interception that took off on Nathan Scheelhaase, but I still think a handful of short passes to get Miller going would have been a good idea.
What we learned last week: Ohio State needs a lot of help in a lot of areas, and some of it probably isn’t coming (especially in the light of Monday’s news).
The Buckeyes are too young at quarterback, too young at wide receiver, inconsistent on the offensive line and rudderless when it comes to scheme.
The defense is good but not ready to be great yet, and it’s probably not going to get great fast enough to save a season that could spin out of control by the time we reach Halloween thanks to a daunting schedule.
Perhaps I’m overreacting, but as we were writing and copy editing the print edition of Buckeye Sports Bulletin on Sunday, I kept having to remind myself the final score was 10-7 because it felt like 100-7.
I want to give the Michigan State defense some credit, but I think it got a lot of help from Ohio State’s personnel and its coaching staff in maintaining a lofty statistical ranking I wasn’t sure it had really earned through the first month of the season. The Spartans do have a good group on that side of the ball, but their play was accelerated by a complete lack of having to think about what it was doing. That must have been some of the most fun a lot of those guys in green and white have had on a football field because the Buckeyes made for easy pickings.
Not only was Ohio State’s plan lacking, its adjustments were baffling. Or, I guess I should say its lack thereof. I understand there are only so many ways to plan that accommodate the shortcomings of a freshman quarterback with unreliable receivers, but there are supplements to the play calls that a junior high team could learn and execute.
What we can expect to learn this week: About the heart of the players and the courage of the coaches.
Nebraska is reeling from an embarrassing loss of its own, but the Cornhuskers must be looking at their visit from Ohio State as a good chance to get well. All is far from lost for the Big Ten’s newest member, which can take comfort in the fact it has no juggernauts to go through to earn a rematch with Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten football championship game.
Taylor Martinez presents an interesting next opponent for the Buckeyes in that like Braxton Miller, he knows something about struggling in the passing game early in his career. He represents both how things can be better and worse from an Ohio State perspective. Martinez is older but still looks pretty out of sorts when asked to make things happen with his arm. He is faster than Miller in terms of straight line speed, but he has nowhere near the natural arm talent the Buckeyes’ signal caller is blessed with.
Martinez appears to get a lot more help from the guys in the booth, however. Despite his limitations, he is in an offense that is designed to take advantage of his strengths. That doesn’t mean they are always available, but there seems to be an actual plan for various situations even if he cannot execute all of them.
I’m not sure that is the case with Ohio State. They don’t seem to know where to begin to start using Braxton Miller – or Joe Bauserman, for that matter.
The Ohio State staff needs to challenge the players it has to execute a full game plan, not put in half of a basic game plan and hope for the best.
In the past, this program has avoided the significantly down season that has befallen basically every other perennial top 10 team by almost always avoiding asking players to do things they can’t do. That was something that made Jim Tressel unique among the big-time coaches. Sometimes it galled those who found him too conservative, but he knew how to press the right buttons more often than not. That probably suppressed some of the potential highs but it definitely avoided a lot of lows, and I think the overall result was one most people were happy with when each season was over and another Big Ten trophy was in the case at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center even if they were nervous more often than they would have liked to have been at times along the way.
Now they seem to have gone too far in that direction, though. The drive to avoid mistakes has removed almost any chance of success, too. A fear of failure overshadowed a desire for success last week, and it threatens to suck the whole season into oblivion if that continues.
Kids are resilient. I don’t think they’ll be down for long, nor will they spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves. They do have some talent, even if a lot of it is young, probably too young. But they need direction and guidance, both from on the sideline and within the huddle.
Where will that come from? Will it come from anyone? That’s the biggest question facing the Buckeyes now as they stare mortality in the face with more than half a season yet to go.
I said before the season they could be 3-3 on Oct. 9 and all would not be lost, but there is a lot that has to be taken care of before the second half of that statement can be proven true.
In the past they have had strong personalities to lead them through adversity, from Craig Krenzel and Mike Doss to Troy Smith and A.J. Hawk to James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins to Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines and even Terelle Pryor. Whether they were getting guys to fall into line behind them or dragging them along with their natural ability, those guys got the job done. They overcame adversity no matter where it came from.
But those guys also never faced this much sheer trouble all at once, and they were never so young when they had to do it.
All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: No shortage of candidates this week, eh?
Let’s start with B.J. Cunningham, who one has to think has a spot locked up when we go back to look at who played the best against the Buckeyes. Nine catches, 154 yards and a tone-setting touchdown will do that for a man. I’m leaving off quarterback Kirk Cousins because he may have done more to hurt his team’s chances to win than he did help them by turning the ball over three times, but nearly the whole defense gets consideration. That includes defensive linemen Jerel Worthy, William Gholston and Marcus Rush, linebackers Max Bullough and Chris Norman, safety Isaiah Lewis and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams. Before the game I wondered if the young Spartan stop troops were for real, and while I think Ohio State did itself few favors with its game plan, the visitors were up to the task of shutting the Buckeyes down.
DVR Directions: If you want to take a look at a couple of teams Ohio State should be able to beat, check out Minnesota-Purdue at noon on ESPN, but the best early game should be Oklahoma-Texas on ABC.
For scouting next week, the Buckeyes’ next opponent, Illinois plays at Indiana on Big Ten Network at the odd starting time of 2:30 p.m.
While you’re waiting for the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers to kick things off at 8, stick with BTN for an hour of what should be an entertaining Michigan-Northwestern game.
Big Ten Picks: After a 4-0 start to the season, there’s nowhere to go but down, eh? Purdue should bounce back form its loss against Notre Dame to handle the reeling Golden Gophers, but the Michigan-Northwestern game is somewhat of a tossup. I went with the Wildcats to start the season, so I will stick with that pick. The bloom has to come off Michigan at some point. Illinois should trounce Indiana, and Iowa will go into Penn State and claim another victory.
Check the Buckeye Sports Bulletin online newsletter Friday for my pick on the OSU-Nebraska game.
Cus Words Power Poll
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State
Everyone is looking up at the Badgers, obviously, who are better on offense than I thought they would be thanks to star quarterback Russell Wilson and an offensive line that hasn’t missed a beat from last year’s studly unit.
The Spartans are a work in progress, but they will be hard-pressed to improve to the point they can knock off the Badgers unless Cousins can cut out the turnovers. Can’t count out Illinois until someone gives us a reason to, and Nebraska is somewhat of a mystery right now.
I’m curious to find out just how good Iowa is as the season wears on, and the same can be said of Michigan.