Buckeyes Getting Close to Full Strength on D
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Ohio — Jim Heacock could only chuckle and shake his head when asked about Ohio State’s defense this season.
There have not been a lot of answers for a group that has largely underachieved this season, despite being ranked among the top 25 in the country in total defense.
Even if they lived up to that ranked—which masks the fact they were a poor tackling team that allowed chunks of yardage to any opposing offense with a pulse—it still would not be on par with what the Buckeyes have been known for during Heacock’s tenure as defensive coordinator.
“We were young at the beginning of the year and I think we had some busts and a little issue with some fundamentals, pursuit angles and tackling,” Heacock said Thursday as he prepares for what could be his final game as an assistant coach at Ohio State.
“Hopefully with our good guys back, I think we’re better at that.”
The Buckeyes lost seven starters from last year’s defense—which was one of the best Heacock has coached at Ohio State. That included senior playmakers like Cam Heyward, Brian Rolle, Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines.
It didn’t help that Ohio State’s top returning starter, defensive end Nathan Williams, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener against Akron. Without him, Heacock is not always sure what he is going to get from a young group—one that included two freshmen and three sophomores in the starting lineup for most of the season.
“You never know until we get out there in the game and see how we’re playing and how we’re moving around,” Heacock said with a sigh.
“I think we have the potential. When we’re moving fast and playing fast and we know what we’re doing, I think we can match up. A lot of it has to do with attitude and the approach you take to the game.”
Heacock has continuously come back to one word to describe what has been lacking most throughout the season: confidence.
After losing Williams in the opener, the Buckeyes had to play the final two games of the season without senior linebacker Andrew Sweat and defensive back Christian Bryant. Then freshman Ryan Shazier—one of the bright young stars on this defense—suffered a knee injury during the regular season-finale at Michigan.
“I knew once I hit, it wasn’t going to be right,” said Shazier, who recorded 23 tackles over the final two games as a starter.
“I knew I had to fight through for the team. Andrew was hurt, there weren’t really that many linebackers to help us out. I just wanted to fight through and try to help the team.”
Shazier stayed in the game, but he was a step slow and that never works against a spread-option like Michigan’s, especially with a triggerman the likes of Denard Robinson.
With more than a month between games, Shazier is getting back to health. He said his knee is close to 90 percent heading in to the Gator Bowl, and Heacock intends to use both Shazier and Sweat together now that he has some options on defense.
“We’re probably as healthy as we’ve been for 4 or 5 games,” he said.
“We’re banged up a little bit. We have some guys on the back end that probably are marginal as far as playing, but I think we feel pretty good. Some of those linebackers are back and it gives us a little bit of depth at that spot.”
The one guy who could be in danger of missing the bowl game is junior safety Orhian Johnson.
“Orhian hasn’t done a whole lot, and he’s a guy that comes in on that nickel scheme,” Heacock said.
“So that gives us a little bit of an issue there similar to what we had last year.”
The Buckeyes had to improvise during their Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas when a number of starting defensive backs were knocked out of the game—including Chekwa, who dislocated his wrist.
If Johnson can’t play, it slightly alters the way Ohio State will defend against Florida. Safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant would likely remain on the field in nickel situations, along with senior Tyler Moeller at the “Star” position.
After a season like this, Heacock will take what he can get.
“When we’re healthy, I think we have a much better understanding,” he said.
“I think we understand the importance of the little things and the importance of doing fundamentals and not getting caught up in the scheme. Eleven guys doing their job, that’s what we’ve always been based on. Not sure we did a great job this year. A little bit inconsistent in that category. I think we’ll be better.”
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.