Ohio State football: Aggressive scheme built around young safeties

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Tyvis Powell’s first start at safety for Ohio State last year was largely an exercise in frustration.

He had spent the regular season as a redshirt freshman nickel cornerback. The Buckeyes’ struggles in pass defense caused coaches to give Powell the start at the back of the secondary in the Orange Bowl.

He had a close-up view of the Buckeyes’ issues as Clemson continually torched Ohio State’s passive pass defense.

“We saw all those screens keep being completed,” Powell said yesterday. “It got kind of frustrating to keep watching it. We were kind of questioning it, like, ‘Why don’t we switch it up?’ I guess it was because we didn’t practice (a more aggressive scheme).”

That won’t be an issue this season as the Buckeyes switch to an attacking style under new co-coordinator/safeties coach Chris Ash, although the identity of the safeties who will help implement the change remains undetermined. Powell will start at strong safety, but Vonn Bell and Cam Burrows continue to compete at free safety.

Bell, a five-star recruit in 2013, was considered the front-runner entering the offseason, but Ash said the competition is too close to call.

“Both of those guys are outstanding every single day,” Ash said. “It’s going to be a tough call as we come down the stretch.”

Bell missed most of spring practice because of a knee injury, and Burrows has taken advantage of his opportunity. The two are splitting time with the first team.

“Vonn is very athletic, very tough,” Ash said. “He’s a hitter. Cam is a smart player, more of a cover guy. They both bring different aspects to it, but I like the way both of them play. Those three guys (including Powell) have separated themselves from the rest of the group.”

Junior Ron Tanner and freshman Erick Smith are Powell’s backups. Burrows wasn’t present during media availability, but Bell said he expects to emerge as the starter.

“I see myself ahead, but he’s going to keep working,” Bell said of Burrows. “He’s not going to give up easy. I probably have more confidence than anybody on the team, so I feel like I’m ahead.”

Whoever the safeties are, the Buckeyes vow to excel with their new, aggressive style.

“You can go out and see guys making more plays on short, quick stuff,” Powell said. “It’s like you’re more confident in the game plan. You know the coaches really know what they’re doing.”

Asked how good the safeties will be this year, Powell said, “I’ll say it’ll be shocking. If it’s me and Vonn, or me and Cam, or Erick and Cam — whoever it is at safety — I’m confident in everybody. Everybody has that playmaking ability.”

Ash is just as optimistic.

“I think it’s got a chance to be an outstanding group,” he said. “There might not be a lot of experience yet, but for the future I think it’s got a chance to be a great group.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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