Ohio State football: Secondary adjusts approach

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs doesn’t just turn on that high-energy, in-a-player’s-face style for the cameras.

He is aggressive by nature.

That is why play of the Buckeyes’ secondary the past two seasons didn’t square. Something was amiss, especially the sometimes dissonant play of the safeties and cornerbacks.

Ohio State fell to 110th in the nation in passing yards allowed in 2013, giving up 31 touchdown passes. The last three opponents, Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson, took full advantage. It wasn’t all the secondary’s fault, but Coombs knew a lot of it was, and soon after safeties coach Everett Withers left to become coach at James Madison, Coombs gained an audience with coach Urban Meyer.

“One of the things I talked to coach Meyer about right away was we needed to start meeting together, spending more time together as a cohesive unit,” Coombs said of the safeties and cornerbacks, who usually had met separately.

Meyer mandated that soon after hiring Chris Ash away from Arkansas, appointing him co-defensive coordinator.

“That’s worked out really well,” Coombs said after practice yesterday. “He’s got good energy, good passion. And Everett is a good coach. It’s just that we’re playing a style of defense (now) that is very appealing to me as a corners coach, a lot of stuff that I believe in. So I am very excited about that.”

For fans screaming for more aggressive press coverage from the cornerbacks, that has been the theme of the spring. That’s even as Coombs seeks to replace departed starter Bradley Roby. Armani Reeves has the spot for now, with Gareon Conley, Eli Apple and Nik Sarac coming on strong. And he is leaning on returning starter Doran Grant for leadership.

“It takes practice to play that way,” Coombs said. “Football is made up of myriad different schemes. … And it’s not like you can just say, ‘Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go press.’ It’s the scheme, it’s the how everything fits together.

“And not blaming it on anybody but that was not what we were doing (in the past). We did it at times. … It wasn’t our base concept. It was an adjustment.”

Now “it is our base alignment,” Coombs said. That’s one of the reasons Ash and coordinator Luke Fickell went to a simplified scheme approach this spring.

“If you’ve noticed, every single snap of spring practice, we’ve lined up in press coverage,” Coombs said. “That’s the way we’re going to learn it, and then we’ll find out how we stack up when the fall comes around.”

The competition has been constant, said Reeves, who played extensively last year, including starting the Orange Bowl in place of an injured Roby, and learning some tough lessons along the way.

“It brings out the best in us every day,” Reeves said of the competition. “None of us are just giving (the job) to someone. We’re all trying to take it, and all trying to do whatever we have to do to be on the field any way we can.”

Coombs said they plan to play more than two corners as a rule this season, “that’s for sure,” and he expects incoming freshmen Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore to figure in the picture, too. It’s going to be a different look in a lot of ways, he said, as the Buckeyes try to fix, but not forget, what went wrong with the pass defense last season.

“They read the paper, too, and if you’re a prideful person … there’s two ways to handle that, right?” Coombs said. “You can turn tail and run, point the finger at somebody else and blame them. Or you can say I’m going to resolve this situation.

“I think our kids are focused, I think they’re energetic. I don’t think they’re down in the dumps. I think they’re playing their butts off. And I’m excited to coach them. I think they’ve got a chip on their shoulder, and they should.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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