More to Come: Vonn Bell Came Up Big at the Orange Bowl and His Future at Ohio State Couldn't be Brighter

By Kyle Rowland on January 9, 2014 at 9:15a
The first big play of Vonn Bell's career.

He may have been part of an Ohio State secondary that was torched for 378 yards passing and five touchdowns, and he may have looked raw and exposed by Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. But freshman safety Vonn Bell flashed that five-star skill that made him one of the nation’s most coveted recruits last February.

A second-quarter interception swung momentum in Ohio State’s direction and acted as a reprieve for Bell after Watkins caught a 34-yard touchdown pass after he found himself matched up against the projected top-10 draft pick. Bell’s night included a career-high seven tackles and an interception.

“I played all right,” an encouraged Bell said after the Buckeyes’ 40-35 loss. “I could get better at some things. But I made plays that were there for me sometimes. I just have to get better, and I have more motivation this spring.”

Bell’s first season in Columbus wasn’t exactly what he and others foresaw after his dramatic Signing Day commitment to Ohio State. A majority of the time was spent on special teams with head coach Urban Meyer pining for more of Bell in the secondary. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and safeties coach Everett Withers went in a different direction, though.

“I just have to get better. I’m going to be a leader on this team and on this defense.”

There was finally a hint of regret from Fickell before the Orange Bowl. In hindsight, after veteran players made so many errors as the defense tried to mask the loss of Christian Bryant, enduring freshman mistakes may not have been so bad. At least that’s the vibe Fickell gave off. The group of talented first-year players in the Class of 2013 was projected to be difference-makers in a national championship campaign. But it never materialized on defense, except for defensive end Joey Bosa’s dominance.

Through it all, Bell claimed he remained confident and waited for his moment. Following the Orange Bowl, he believes he proved he could be elite.

The future of Bell as a Buckeye will likely be spent at free safety. But his versatility gives Ohio State options. Bell admitted during the season as he was running down on kicks instead of appearing in the defensive backfield that a tinge of frustration set in. Soon after the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, the coaching staff decided to insert Bell into the starting lineup in place of struggling senior Pitt Brown. 

“It just motivated me to keep on grinding every day,” Bell said. “Just be patient. As a true freshman, it’s really hard to play defensive back. You have to be really talented and you just have to stay patient and show them every day and earn the coaches trust.”

Growing pains are an inevitable part of any player’s career – even five-star recruits. Bell experienced that, and although not every image of his start was favorable, he and Ohio State should see positive results. Bell became a Buckeye to play in primetime games on a national stage. His interception of Boyd acted as his introduction to the college football world.

Instead of pursuing Boyd, Bell stayed back and baited the quarterback into throwing the ball. It was a veteran move by a freshman who’d played minimal defensive snaps. It was the type of play Ohio State longed for in the secondary all season.

The birth of Vonny Football

“We ran a little zone play. I read the eyes of Tajh and he threw it and I was able to make a play,” Bell said. “[The coaches] said we need plays made, so I made the play for us.”

In the practices leading up to the Orange Bowl, Bell said he was intent on earning the coaches trust. With little experience returning to the secondary, Bell is a shoo-in to start next year. His presence will be vital for the skilled but unproven group patrolling the defensive backfield.

“We have to take this as motivation,” Bell said. “I just have to get better. I’m going to be a leader on this team and on this defense.”



TheShookster's picture

No doubts Vonn will be a leader on this defense, hopefully he is not forced to play in a bend but don't break defense for the remainder of his career.

He ain't even stretch doe!!

Jabba the Hoke's picture

I don't mind a "bend but don't break" style, the problem is tackling is bad enough that OSU breaks way too often.

osubuck57's picture

Really like how MSU corners and safeties play press and bump and run. Wish our corners did much of the same. Maybe one day. Offenses were scared of our secondary not too long ago. Can't say that now!! And who teaches a secondary NOT to turn your head around when the ball is in the air??? Hope Von brings a "nasty" streak to our secondary next year!!


TresselourgodUrbanoursavior's picture

Do the coaches teach the players NOT to turn their head or are the coaches just not doing a good job teaching the players to do so?

4thandinches's picture

I really wish our coaches would have let the cream rise to the top earlier in the season.

I wasn't born a Buckeye but I became one as fast as I could. 

Furious George 27's picture

I think Fickell employs the JT philosophy of playing upper classmen over more talented underclassmen because of their lack of experience... i.e. Bauserman over Miller

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

cinserious's picture

I agree and Fickell needs to get that shit out of his head. It cost us basically a wasted year of Vonn Bell. I know he'll get a redshirt, and I know he learned some things this past season, but if he leaves early for the draft, we will only have had him on the field for two years. 

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

OSUBias's picture

How will he get a redshirt? He appeared in almost every game this year, and he's certainly not red shirting going forward.

Shitter's full

TheBadOwl's picture

I'm excited to see what Urban's recruits can do. Look at the d-line, guys like Spence, Bosa, Washington, Schutt and Marcus are all guys Urban recruited, and they all played lights-out. Dontre was great but seldom used, and Zeke showed some flashes of greatness.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Hovenaut's picture

I think we knew he fit the bill physically.
I've been impressed with his "football smarts" - even before the bowl game. VB has a real nose for the ball, and was excellent on kickoff coverage all year.
Looking forward to him spreading the net and locking down the back half on the ground and in the air the next few seasons.

We have filled the Braxton Miller position.

Doc's picture

Hopefully Vonn and the rest of the defense will get the coaching they deserve.  Vonn will be a stud here if allowed to.

I'm hiding baby and I'm dreaming
I'm riding down your moonlight mile

FLAMikey's picture

Baller. Shot caller. Should have been in the line-up sooner.

BierStube's picture

On that Watkins TD .. Bell should have had help over the top correct???

"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

Doc's picture

Thats what the "Hurt Buckaroo" said.  After the play Vonn was looking around wondering where the safety was.

I'm hiding baby and I'm dreaming
I'm riding down your moonlight mile

mobboss1984's picture

I think he was burned on the play, but he also expected safety help. The announcer mentioned it

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

Chris Raiden's picture

Didn't see it live, but on replays, it was clear that was what happened.
In which case, Bell did the right thing trying to bump the receiver off his route and disrupt the timing down the field. Barrett should have been there to make the play on the ball in the end zone, but instead he was (as discussed below) tripling the tight end.

Flyermike's picture

I'm no defensive guru, but from my couch it clearly looked like Barnett bit hard on a TE crossing route underneath.  As soon as Watkins caught the ball in the endzone Bell turned around like "Dude, wtf?"  I doubt the defensive scheme would call for a true freshmen to guard by himself a player of Watkins caliber...but I don't get paid 600k annually either so...

TheBadOwl's picture

I don't know if saying that he "bit on the route" really gives justice to what happened. It was a crossing route, he should have let him go and trusted the other safety to pick up the route, which he did.
Barnett vacated his side to stay on the tight end, who then ended up in triple (!!!) coverage, while there was no help over the top on the side with Watkins, the best receiver in the country, who was matched up with a true freshman who is a safety by trade.
This play was a microcosm of our entire pass defense this season.
It seemed like all year long, one guy would stay in his zone while the guy next to him would follow a receiver into another zone, leaving a guy wide open with room to run.
EDIT: Apparently Perry blew his coverage and Barnett had to cover for him. My point still stands.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Yes, and that play, in a nutshell, is what plagued the defense all year - the one mistake waterfall.

Read my entire screen name....

LouBuck35's picture

In Ross' defensive breakdown, he describes the play pretty well.  Yes, Vonn should have had some safety help.  With that scheme Josh Perry should have stuck with the crossing route.  When he didn't stay with his man, Barnett jumped to cover that man, leaving Watkins the entire field to run free.  Vonn had zero help and got beat by one of the top WRs in the country.  Pretty standard fare for the defensive backfield all year, i.e. missed assignments and blown coverage.

I want a fall Saturday in Ohio Stadium..

mobboss1984's picture

This kid, Dontre, Bosa, Wilson, Zeke and Jalin have me excited for next year. I would love to see Jalin, MM, and James Clark play more next yr. 

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

avail31678's picture

I can't wait for James Clark to be back.  Dude is a BURNER.  Line up Jalin, Dontre, and Clark and see who gets open. 

Barnsey69's picture

The future is bright and I can't wait until tends to be warmer then as well!

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

Bamabucknut's picture

Michigan State not Ohio State  has become the big dog in the Big Ten.They did it without the highly ranked players we have been getting.

Furious George 27's picture

I think Wisconsin has done more to prove that than MSU in the Big 10 if you want to consider someone as a legit contender besides OSU. I do however believe they will be a consistent 9-10 win team which is good for SoS. MD and Rutgers are bad but at least they are not Purdue and Illinois terrible.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

fanfarris's picture

Dino and Duzzi won the Rose bowl.When was the last time Wisky won it ?If OSU does not get a real DC,then you can just settle for 9 wins seasons.And Fickel Snooty remarks.


Furious George 27's picture

 Wisconsin has also won 3 of the last 4 Big 10 championships. The question was who will replace OSU as top dog in the Big 10. Wisky has Andersen who is already better than Bielema and they only have to contend with Iowa and Nebraska in the West for a spot in the CCG. Wisky lost the Rose Bowl because of bad coaching not because they didn't have the players.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

teddyballgame's picture

IMO, the turning point was when Stave got hurt and had to leave the game.  They were doing fine up until then.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

MSU was the big dog in the Big Ten in 2013. MSU has not been the bog dog, if you look at a longer time horizon (the last five or ten years). And I don't see MSU being the big dog next season or for the next five or so seasons going forward.
But you do? Why? 

Furious George 27's picture

That's what I was saying, MSU had a great season and drew the best possible bowl match up in Stanford.... Turning 3* recruits into great players is great work by the coaching staff, but it normally takes a few seasons for them to develop. If they were a top 15 recruiting program then I would be worried in the long run.... They are the complete opposite of _ichigan who gets top talent, but has bad coaching who cannot develop it.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

Seattle Linga's picture

VB will be a leader in no time on this team. A team catalyst and one that will be making plays for many years. Go Bucks

Buckeye Scottie's picture

Bell's play is what finally made me take at least a one big step off the Fick bandwagon, and just about both feet off.  It was clear he should have been playing all year, and how much better he would have been, had he had a full season of experience.  I have been one of the few, quiet Fick supporters, but his play on that fateful Friday night made me think that maybe it is time for a new face leading the defensive coaches meetings.

hcazualcc's picture

Don't get me wrong, that play at the goal line was amazing.  But your colleague Ross had less nice things to say about Vonn in an area of the game that killed us throughout.  He got blocked early on most of those screen plays where he should have been at the point of attack.  I'm still having nightmares of Sammy Watkins with 10 yards in front of him on the sideline.

Wesleyburgess1's picture

I watched the game again after reading Ross's article and I don't see what he is talking about. Most of those plays to me look like Josh Perry's fault. Watkins would motion out and it was Perry's job to follow and take up a block or pursue Watkins. Instead he didn't and it left Vonn and D. Grant guarding 3 people. Vonn was already out wide so unless he got help he was blocked on every single play unless he could somehow evade the blocker and make the tackle which is Nfl level shit.

TheBadOwl's picture

Yeah, damn him for getting blocked! What a bust!
Dude's like 6'0 190. You can't expect him to just throw guys out of the way.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

hcazualcc's picture

height and weight have little (if anything) to do with getting around blocks.
so you disagree with Ross Fulton?

otrain2416's picture

Need more cowBELL

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

ScarletGray43157's picture

Bell should have gotten minutes (other than special team) right from the start of the year.  Maybe the year would have ended differently if this had happened.  

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

dubjayfootball90's picture

Real glad he will be in the secondary next year with Powell. I also am very high on Doran Grant as well. Hopefully he can get the little mistakes ironed out, but Doran has potential to be something special, too. IMO

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

ABrown07's picture

What I don't understand is Urban said directly, the best 11 will be on the field regardless of class rank, I personally do not feel this was the case this year. Vonn Bell only played special teams and in the biggest game of the year showed up and had a pick and several good tackles. Imagine if he had game experience all year how much better he would've been (I'm not saying he would've been the savior of the secondary, just that he definitely should've been out there over certain other DB's). I'm sorry but you can't tell me Pitt Brown is better than Bell. Bell clearly should've been on the field.

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

Furious George 27's picture

I could see him not being the best safety at the start of fall camp with Bryant and Barnett returning. My guess is they didn't teach him everything and then were stuck with Pitt Brown when the injury to Bryant occurred.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

dlb72osu's picture

Well then, I guess UFM has a little more insight than all of us when he said the best 11 would be on the field. Nor does he ultimately care how you feel about his statement.
We sit out here in front of our computers typing opinions of the little known facts that we gather in our living rooms watching on tv. Most of what we hear and see is filtered through media personnel, for what that is worth. So if we put everything in perspective, it is a crazy wonderful thing that we have this ability to voice our opinions and even rant about what we see as coaching f.u.'s. But in the end we all put our trust in a head coach to do the correct thing to make this a successful (i.e. winning) program. Including getting rid of assistants and/or promoting them. And playing certain players or sitting them. Last time I checked, we don't have a vote. Even those of us who are or have been associated with organized sports on any level.
Our phones not ringing nor is Urban on the line.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

- Invictus

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Yep. As fans, we are encouraged to criticize the results of games, and we might even occasionally have good insights on some of the Xs and Os. All coaches are fallible and will make mistakes and if they make too many mistakes, they must be held accountable to certain standards. Moreover, Buckeye standards are especially high.
That said, given our limited expertise and knowledge (including "inside" knowledge), we're not well qualified to evaluate the day-to-day workings of a program, which players to offer scholarships to, how much each players should play, what defenses to call when, etc.
It's much easier for us to discern the "big picture" results - wins and losses, championships, overall program trajectory, etc. - and ultimately that's what the coaches will be judged on, anyway.
Sure, it's a fun part of the fan experience to play armchair coach, criticize and make suggestions, call for changes, etc. Hell, I do it myself all the time. Ultimately, though, we really don't know squat.
For example, we don't know where Vonn Bell was a player and student in August 2013.

Kindell's picture

There is some real positives that came out of that heart breaking loss.  Bell and Bosa played very well on a big stage as true freshman and give us some real hope for the return of the silver bullets.
I don't want to forget about Marcus either.  I think they are going to have to find a way to get him on the field.  He was everything Urban described him to be.  I love how that dude goes after every play like he plans on hurting someone.  It's almost like anything that happened good on defense that night involved a #11, #97. or #34.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

I'm a big fan of Marcus, too. Marcus, who is listed at 6'2 and 240 lbs, reminds me a little of Khalil Mack, who played "LB" at 6'3 and 248 lbs. Niether of them seem to fit neatly within a DE or an OLB mold, but they just make plays. 
With that in mind, Buffalo moved Mack around into different positions/spots. Maybe the Buckeye defensive staff can utilize Marcus in creative ways even while having two other "DEs" on the field at the same time?
I also wonder if having better cover safeties like Vonn Bell will give them more flexibility to be creative with a Jamal Marcus, etc.?

BrooklynBuckeye's picture

I agree that Pitt struggled and maybe Bell should have been out there sooner, but we shouldn't underestimate the effect of the extra bowl practices in getting Bell ready. Freshman often break out in bowl games for this reason, doesnt necessarily mean they were the best option in the regular season.

irishfury's picture

Yes.  I love having Urban Meyer as coach.  One thing that really frustrated me as a fan was sticking with one thing.  It was clear as day that Pitt Brown shouldn't be on the field.  Vonn Bell couldn't have done much worse.  I felt this all year with multiple things.  Like the ending of the season we did the Carlos/Braxton run play every game.  Don't get me wrong thats great but we have a team full of 4/5 star recruits and play makers.  You can't tell me that Dontre Wilson on a screen or slant shouldn't be called at least 5 times a game?
I really want to see.  Mike Mitchell, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Burrows, McMillian, Marshall and Clark alot next year.

osubuckeye4life's picture

Brother Muzone and Gus Fring approve