The loss of multi-year starters Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell at safety combined with a spring game featuring a secondary that looked lost at times gives Ohio State fans the perfect opportunity to be concerned about something.
During a summer with very few question marks on offense or defense, the secondary will certainly be a topic of conversation. But let’s face it, when half of your questions that need to be answered heading into fall practice involve your third wide receiver and running back, you are in pretty good shape.
So even though the holes at safety and the apparent inability of Chekwa or Torrence to reach shut-down corner status are mildly concerning, count me as far from worried about it.
Here are a few things that I learned this spring about the secondary. Read More
In order to help us get through the long summer months, we will be starting a countdown of the top 25 Buckeyes of the decade (2000-2009).
The staff submitted their ballots and the votes have been tallied. We will unveil a new Buckeye in the countdown once a week and as the season approaches the frequency may increase (I haven’t done the exact math to figure out how this is going to work out).
We will only be covering football players for this countdown, even though Ohio State has had some fine basketball players over the last decade as well, sorry Evan Turner.
One thing to note is that we didn’t really define what it means to be in the “Top 25 Buckeyes of the Decade.”
Do you measure on the field accomplishments? wins and losses? statistics? post season accolades? who you’d want most on this year’s team?
In the end, it is a mix of all of the above and then some, which means that different people will have different opinions about this list. We tried to eliminate some of the individual biases by polling all five writers here at the BBC, and I have to say I am happy with the results. However, by no means is this list definitive, so feel free to chime in with your thoughts.
And with that, here are the guys that didn’t quite make the cut for the top 25, but did receive votes, making them worthy of an honorable mention. Read More
This week I am going back to the safeties to take a look at how things shook out. Since there are only two positions to look at, this should be fairly brief.
In my preseason breakdown, I predicted that we would be very good at safety this year, and for the most part I think that has happened… with a few interesting twists.
First I guess I will start with the easy part, senior captain Kurt Coleman. Coleman was expected to be a leader on the defense and one of the better players on the team this season, and so far he has been both. He hit a little speed bump last week, getting suspended by the Big Ten for the Indiana game following a late hit against Illinois, but other than that his play has been stellar and he should be back in full force this week… just in time to help slow down a seemingly powerful Wisconsin offense.
Despite missing the Indiana game, Coleman is second on the team in tackles with 29 and has an interception and an amazing 3 forced fumbles. While the team didn’t miss Coleman too much against Indiana, his ability to create turnovers and provide run support will be key against Wisconsin, needless to say it will be good to have him back.
Backing up Coleman is Orhian Johnson. Despite reading some positive reviews during the summer about Orhian, his impact has been minimal so far during the season. He has played in three games and has recorded 4 tackles.
At the other safety spot, returning starter Anderson Russell got burnt badly several times in the Navy game, and before too long was replaced by Jermale Hines as the starter. This move wasn’t a big surprise as several reports during the fall indicated that Hines was pressing for playing time.
So, even though the potential three year starter Anderson Russell has disappointed, he provides quality depth to say the least (he filled in admirably for Coleman in the Indiana game, recovering a fumble and hauling in an INT) while Hines has stepped in and played well as the new starter.
Hines in particular is someone to keep an eye on heading into the game tomorrow. I noticed against Indiana that Hines played very close to the line on some occasions, giving the Buckeyes what might as well have been four linebackers. I think we will see a lot of Hines in the box this weekend as well in order to stop the Wisconsin run game.
The run support that both Hines and Coleman provide will be a major factor in stopping Wisconsin this weekend, so they are both worth keeping an eye on (which is mostly why I decided to do safeties this week).
I wouldn’t be surprised if Coleman and Hines both ended up playing on Sundays at some point in the future, while Russell has a ton of experience and will still see the field in nickel situations most likely, providing Ohio State with lots of talent and experience at safety.
As I mentioned, Coleman is second on the team in tackles with 29, Hines clocks in at 4th with 19, and despite losing his starting job, Russell is sixth on the team with 17 tackles. The safeties have been very active this season and a major part of the Buckeyes success thus far on defense. That should continue, and it will be good.
This comes as no real shock to most of us….Safety Kurt Coleman was suspended today by the Big Ten for a late/over-aggressive hit against Illinois on Saturday afternoon.
He will miss the Indiana game as a result, and Anderson Russell will get the start opposite Jermale Hines. We have depth in the secondary, so this doesn’t hurt as much as it could. Plus, I’m not worried too much about Indiana hurting us with their offense (that 33 they put up was against the 2009 Michigan defense, which might actually be worse than the 2008 Michigan defense, if possible).
The Big Ten is indeed cracking down on hits like Coleman’s, and this is further proof. When it happened, many of us in the live chat discussed the possible suspension. So here it is.
Yes, it’s disappointing to our secondary, but we knew the B10 would be acting like this over plays that merit punishment. Suck it up, play harder in his absence, and don’t turn into the WATBs that occupy TTUN, who howled like wounded puppies over their suspended player from the week before.
Keep passing to the TE’s and RB’s - We had great success in the passing game last week by going to the TE’s and RB’s – in fact the top two receivers were at TE/RB. USC will be a lot better in pass defense than Navy was, and we will need to spread it around in order to be able to move the ball at all against them.
Better blocking from the RB’s - Apparently, given what’s been said among the Buckeye blogosphere the last few days, I was too harsh on the offensive line and not nearly hard enough on the running backs. The RB’s need to learn to pick up the blitzes better in pass blocking or LiC is going to be on his back every single day.
The Defensive Line must slow – if not stop – the run – Barkley is going to be a fantastic quarterback for USC for the next several years. Fortunately for us, he’s still a freshman and prone to mistakes if he’s forced to make them. USC cannot be allowed to run the football and must be forced to have Barkley win the game with his arm. If the DL succeeds in making USC one-dimensional, USC should be a lot easier to control.
The secondary has to grow up and make plays - Kurt Coleman did a wonderful job against Navy. Anderson Russell…well…not so much. The corners weren’t tested much, unfortunately. If we’re going to force USC to beat us through the air, we need to be able to take advantage of it. Mistakes in the pass defense game will kill us as easily this year as last.
We must make some big plays early – The crowd is going to be fired up for this game without a doubt. Throw in an early sack from Thaddeus on third down or a 40 yard scramble from Pryor and the stadium will be shaking. Energy from the crowd is going to play a major role in this game, and nothing will bring that energy to a fever pitch like a few big time plays early in the game.
We must break Matt Barkley - I want ears ringing before kickoff. I want his ass on the ground every time he drops back. I want him crying for mommy at halftime. I want him curled up in the fetal position when the game is over. Barkley is a cocky little snot, we must shatter his confidence early, we must hit him constantly, we must break him.
Pryor must roll out of the pocket – Pryor came to Ohio State to become a passing quarterback. He can do that later. I want Pryor rolling out of the pocket early and often and I want him taking off the moment he sees some open field. Pryor outside of the tackles is the most dangerous weapon that we have on offense. Take advantage of it.
We must stop pulling guards on short yardage plays – Pulling a guard clogs the hole with a slow lineman, it forces the running back to slow down and adjust when he needs to be hitting the hole full speed, it allows weak-side penetration which usually runs into the running back who is waiting on the guard to get out of the way, it only works about half the time at best and we need to STOP DOING IT.
A freshman quarterback on his back A LOT – If you’re going to rattle Barkley into turnovers (and he CAN be forced into a bad night, he hasn’t had many good days in practice so far), you’ve got to make him wonder where the hits are coming from next. Two sacks in the first two drives will do that. Be all up in his jersey and he will throw three interceptions by game’s end.
No mental mistakes – That means EVERYBODY. No unnecessary penalties. Don’t blow the coverage. Kick the FG on 4th-and-2. Heads in the game…you’re at HOME. The pressure is on THEM. Let them know it.
Terrelle Pryor – leave the pocket – Not that he spends a lot of time there anyway, but the best way to knock USC off is to make Pryor as mobile as possible. USC has never handled mobile QBs very well and they tend to surrender a lot of points when they face one. With this young defense, it could get lead to a lot of yardage, but only if we force them to chase LiC.
Make Joe McKnight have more than half of USC’s total offense – McKnight is going to get 130 yards rushing and a few receiving yards. The rest of USC combined needs to be held to less than that. McKnight alone cannot beat us….so stop the rest of the Trojans and you get the W.
NOISE NOISE NOISE* – There’s 105,000 of you in that stadium, and I can’t be one of them. If you have tickets and you’re as quiet as you were last week, I’m personally going to beat the shit out of you Sunday morning. This is the biggest game in the Shoe since Michigan 2006. Act like it!
Barkley flustered – Look, champ- this isn’t your seventh grade all-stars game. It’s THE Horseshoe, the BDBITL, and 105,000+ screaming fans. Plus, eleven warriors who’ve been waiting all summer to make your acquaintance, and who couldn’t play like their hair was on fire last week because of the “read and react” option offense. I want him to have a Colt McCoy type night, circa 2006.
No false starts or stupid offensive line penalties – I’m going to keep asking for it until it happens.
U$C’s defense out of position – Open the playbook, make them guess where you’re going next. LiC, work your magic.
Mark May with his foot in his mouth – Dig your way out of the hole when the Bucks win, you hack.
According to Doug Lesmerises at the Plain Dealer (via twitter), Jermale Hines has replaced Anderson Russell at safety. Not really a surprising move considering Russell got burnt several times against Navy.
Many people were clamoring for this, now we will see how it works out. I will be interested in seeing who gets snaps at nickel now that Hines is (apparently) at safety.
I think that Hines is going to be a major factor in stopping the short passing game that I am sure the inexperienced Barkley is going to rely heavily on, so the more Hines is on the field the better in my opinion. Fun stuff.
Update: here is the article.
Apparently Coleman is sliding over to free safety and will take on more coverage responsibilities and Hines will be taking over at strong safety. Russell will probably still see the field in nickel situations as the new “star” back. Like I said, fun stuff.
For the last installment of my position breakdown series, I will look at the defensive backfield.
I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that All-American (and arguably the best CB in the nation last year) Malcolm Jenkins is gone and “starter” Donald Washington is also gone (he was in the doghouse so much I would call him a sometimes starter).
That means that Ohio State will be looking to replace two corners from last years team. On the bright side, as I mentioned, Washington missed quite a bit of time for various reasons which allowed Chimdi Chekwa to gain plenty of experience as a starting corner last year. More on that later though, on to the good news.
The good news is that both of the safeties are back. Making this good news even better, both of the safeties are each entering their third year as a starter.
First up is starting strong safety and captain #4 Kurt Coleman. Coleman briefly considered turning pro after last season before deciding to come back for his senior year (maybe will channel his inner Doss in 2009, we can only hope). He is the leading returning tackler on the team (78 tackles in 2008) and also led the team with 4 interceptions last season.
Coleman is a ball hawk and a leader not just of the defense, but of the entire team. He should be a key component of the Buckeye defense in 2009 and is one of the best players on the team.
Backing up Coleman at SS are redshirt freshman Orhian Johnson (#19) and senior Aaron Gant (#8). Johnson is long and lanky for a SS at 6’2″ and 178 pounds but he has tremendous athletic ability and a knack for going up and getting jump balls. He has obviously been impressive during practice because he is listed ahead of Gant (Tressel is loyal to his seniors and all that) on the depth chart.
Gant has been a solid contributor on special teams for his entire career and has seen some time on defense. He is a big hitter but the fact that he has been passed up by Johnson on the depth chart makes me think that he probably has trouble in pass coverage.
Johnson apparently has an ankle injury so it looks like it will be Coleman and Gant (edit: it seems like Gant may have suffered an injury now as well, I will be curious to see who plays at safety tomorrow) at SS for the Navy game. Johnson probably won’t miss very much time with the injury, so the Buckeyes look to be solid at strong safety in 2009.
The other three year starter coming back at free safety is redshirt senior Anderson Russell (#21), who has significant experience (obviously) and will be another leader on the defense.
Last year Russell had 67 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles. I expect Russell to be a solid contributor this season, but he has Jermale Hines nipping at his heels for starting time.
That brings us to the (somewhat surprising) backup at free safety, Jermale Hines (#7). I think Hines will get most of his reps this year in the nickel formations when an extra DB is brought on the field to replace a linebacker (which is usually done against spread teams), but the fact that he is listed as the backup at safety is encouraging because it means he is impressing the coaches.
Hines is a junior who received extensive playing time last year and I think he will see the field extensively this year as well. As I mentioned, there have been reports that Hines is pushing Russell for the starting spot at safety which means that Hines must be doing something right.
Even if Hines doesn’t end up starting at safety, he will see the field plenty this year and with his speed and hitting ability, he will be an impact player on the defense.
With Russell and Hines, free safety is solid for 2009 as well.
If you are feeling pretty good right now about our secondary (and you should be, our safeties are going to be good), I am about to rain on your parade, sorry.
Cornerback is the biggest question mark on the entire team as far as I’m concerned. I think the players here have the ability to perform but have had very few chances to prove it, leaving questions (and concerns) galore.
One thing that hasn’t been a question is that redshirt junior Chimdi Chekwa (#5) will be starting at one of the cornerback positions. Chekwa has plenty of starting experience as a cornerback (in 2008) and as a nickelback (in 2007), but with the departure of Jenkins he will be expected to step in and become the next lock down corner at Ohio State.
Chekwa has ideal size (6’0″ 188 lbs.) and speed (anchored the 4×1 relay team that won the Big Ten championship in the spring) and I am confident that he has the ability to cover the best receivers in the nation, but until he actually does it there will still be some doubt in people’s minds (also raising some doubts, at least for me, is the fact that Texas went Chekwa’s way constantly in the Fiesta Bowl).
Backing up Chekwa is redshirt freshman Travis Howard (#18) who unfortunately has been hit by the injury bug and will miss the game against Navy. Howard is a young guy who has tons of potential but limited experience and losing him is a bit troublesome as it leaves the Buckeyes thin at an already thin position. Hopefully Howard will be able to return to the field soon and gain some much needed experience.
Battling for the starting spot opposite Chekwa are 5th year senior Andre Amos (#13) and junior Devon Torrence (#10). Amos has had injury problems his entire career up to this point and Torrence has played baseball in the Houston Astros farm system for the past several years and has only seen limited action at cornerback, making both huge question marks.
[little side note here: I can't seem to find a single picture of Torrence or Amos playing in a game, which I think illustrates the whole "lacking experience" thing nicely]
BothAmos and Torrence have good size (both are listed at 6’1″ and around 185 lbs.) and elite athleticism, but like I said, neither has seen much game action which is cause for concern. Also, neither player has separated themselves as the starter (even though Amos is listed as the starter) and they will both probably rotate frequently.
So, big questions at cornerback, and considering the anemic Navy passing attack, we may have to wait until September 12th to find out what shape we are in at the position. That makes me more than a little nervous.
Hopefully the defensive line will be able to get plenty of pressure on apposing QBs and the safeties will be able to provide the leadership (and the over the top help) needed to allow the CBs to transition into their new starting rolls seamlessly. That would be the ideal situation. Cross your fingers (only with one hand though, save your other hand to cross your fingers for the offensive line), I know I will be.
That wraps it up for my position previews (whew!). If you will notice, there is now a bar at the top of the BBC homepage (thanks Jeff!) that has links to all of the previews I have done. Remember to check back periodically throughout the year for updated reviews of how each position is performing.
I am not sure what position I will start with or when I will do them, but the situation at offensive tackle has already changed drastically since my preview (Mike Adams has been demoted to third string and is suspended for at least the first game) and the situation on the defensive line looks to be even more fluid than I anticipated (Doug Worthington claims that he will play as much at DE as Heyward this year) so there should be plenty to talk about.
I have had fun doing these breakdowns and I hope you enjoyed reading them and continue coming back to The Buckeye Battle Cry throughout the season. I think that we will have plenty of interesting material to keep you occupied during the week as you daydream of football at work.