Von Bell couldn't stop smiling when talking about Ohio State's new-look defense Monday.
It was almost hard to tell the Buckeyes' secondary was, statistically, one of the worst in all of college football in 2013 as they ranked 112th in the country and 11th in the Big Ten in pass defense.
So, after last year's defensive disappointment, head coach Urban Meyer brought in Chris Ash to coach the safeties and take the title as co-defensive coordinator, while Larry Johnson was brought in to lead the defensive line.
Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days that Ohio State has completely blown up its pass defense and started from scratch, but what is going to be the biggest difference this year when it comes to the secondary?
“It’s gonna be more aggressive. The corners are gonna be in your face, you’re gonna see a lot of big hits, a lot of plays," Bell said with a wide grin. "The secondary is very involved so you’re gonna see a lot of that.”
To put it simply: Ohio State's secondary must be better in 2014.
The Defensive Backs in 2013
The Buckeyes surrendered 268 yards per game through the air last year which was worse than every team in the Big Ten except Indiana.
After Ohio State lost safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury after the Wisconsin game, Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown assumed the starting role alongside C.J. Barnett at safety, while Bradley Roby and Doran Grant started at corner.
Of those five, Grant is the only one who returns in 2014. He made 58 tackles and had three interceptions last year for the Buckeyes.
Roby was a mainstay in the Ohio State secondary for years. Despite what many would consider a "down" year last season, he was selected No. 29 overall by the Denver Broncos in the most recent NFL Draft.
As of right now, Ohio State only has two starters in its secondary: Grant and Tyvis Powell.
|13||CB||APPLE, ELI||6-1||198||FR||Voorhees, NJ|
|11||DB||BELL, VONN||5-11||200||SO||Rossville, GA|
|16||DB||BURROWS, CAM||6-0||210||SO||Trotwood, OH|
|28||S||CIBENE, MICHAEL||6-0||186||SO||Fort Lauderdale, FL|
|19||CB||CONLEY, GAREON||6-0||190||FR||Massillon, OH|
|32||S||DOUP, RUSSELL||6-2||210||SR||Mt. Vernon, OH|
|3||S||FRANKLIN, KHALEED||6-1||206||SO||Columbus, OH|
|12||CB||GRANT, DORAN||5-11||193||SR||Akron, OH|
|24||S||HOOKER, MALIK||6-1||195||FR||New Castle, PA|
|2||CB||LATTIMORE, MARSHON||6-0||195||FR||Cleveland, OH|
|29||S||MADUKO, MIKE||5-9||190||FR||Naperville, IL|
|26||S||NIEHOFF, KEVIN||6-3||205||JR||Mason, OH|
|23||S||POWELL, TYVIS||6-3||208||SO||Bedford, OH|
|26||CB||REEVES, ARMANI||5-10||198||JR||West Roxbury, MA|
|18||CB||SARAC, NIK||5-9||183||SR||Cleveland, OH|
|1||S||SMITH, ERICK||6-0||198||FR||Cleveland, OH|
|20||DB||TANNER, RON||6-0||205||JR||Columbus, OH|
|7||CB||WEBB, DAMON||5-10||190||FR||Detroit, MI|
|23||S||WILLIAMS, ISAIAH||6-3||208||FR||Dayton, OH|
|35||S||WORLEY, CHRIS||6-2||222||FR||Cleveland, OH|
After spending most of last year in the nickel position, Powell will be making the move to strong safety this fall. He recorded 48 tackles and one very key interception last year.
The free safety position and the corner opposite of Grant are still very much up for grabs. Bell and Cam Burrows are competing for that safety spot and Ash said each has had a very strong camp.
"Cam Burrows and Vonn Bell have a great competition going at the free safety position," Ash said. "Both of those guys are outstanding every single day. It’s going to be a tough call as we come down the stretch."
The other battle in the secondary is for the second corner and it seems like Eli Apple and Gareon Conley are the top two contenders, with Armani Reeves also pushing for playing time. Meyer said Wednesday that there still was not a clear winner.
It's hard to say at this point because only two starters have been named, but Ash said Monday whoever does not start between Bell and Burrows at free safety will still see playing time. You'd also have to imagine whoever doesn't start at the corner opposite of Grant would see the field, as well.
Some other players the coaching staff have mentioned as possible candidates to play in the secondary are freshmen and former Glenville High School teammates, Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith, along with another freshman from Detroit, Damon Webb.
The bottom line is Ohio State's pass defense must be better. It has to be if the Buckeyes are going to compete for a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff without star quarterback Braxton Miller running the offense.
Ohio State's defensive line, which should be one of the best in all of college football, can assist the inexperienced secondary, however. If the Buckeyes can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks while only rushing four, it will make things a lot easier on the younger players.
There will be a lot of new faces on the field for the Ohio State secondary which still raises a lot of questions, but the coaching staff seems pleased with the progress made to this point.
“It starts with the effort. I see great effort and on every single play our guys are flying around," Ash said. "They know the system , they know the calls, they’re playing fast, they’re getting to the ball, they’re making plays on the ball and they’re doing it consistently play in and play out and that’s the great thing to watch.”