In his first comments since spring practice began, Chris Ash made it clear that talent alone will not win out on defense. Urban Meyer said Ohio State played like an entitled team at times in 2013. Coaching 776 miles away in Fayetteville, Ark., Ash saw traces of the same lack of spirit.
Consecutive losses to end the season did nothing to lessen the concern. Meyer quickly enlisted Ash as one of his deputies to re-establish a toughness and edge to the Buckeyes. Going forward, complacency will disappear and energy will become a weekly trait. Ohio State will win – or lose – with constant effort.
“It doesn’t matter what we do schematically,” Ash declared, “we’re going to have a philosophy, we’re going to have a system, an identity about what we’re doing. But really, it’s all about how hard we play and how consistent we are doing it.
“It all starts with the effort. Once we get the effort where we want it to be, then we’ll worry about the details of what we’re doing. Our alignments, our footwork, our hands, our eyes, all those things, those things will come in time. But right now, that’s not the main focus.”
There are several areas Ash is scanning. One of considerable importance is talent evaluation. When you walk into the Ohio State locker room, it isn’t hard to spot current or potential stars. Asked who’s been impressive, Ash mentioned the usual suspects – Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Doran Grant, Tyvis Powell – along with several newcomers – Raekawn McMillan, Darron Lee and Chris Worley.
“It all starts with the effort. Once we get the effort where we want it to be, then we’ll worry about the details of what we’re doing.”– Chris Ash
On the job for two months now, Ash’s role as secondary savior is coming into focus. The unit was ranked 112th in the country last season and played a key role in both losses. Ash, who’s official title if co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, has a history of molding suspect secondaries into top-end units. If he can duplicate that success at Ohio State, the Buckeyes could receive a needed boost.
“The first thing I want to make sure they’re doing is coming out here and living the culture of Ohio State football that Coach Meyer has. And it’s going four to six seconds, from point A to point B and playing with extreme effort,” Ash said. “As long as we can do that, we’ll fix anything else that we have wrong. We’ve got some talented players here that if they can consistently be in the right spots and execute and give maximum effort, we're going to do pretty well.”
There’s a bit of a youth movement throughout the defense – a handful of underclassmen, juniors and seniors all meshed together. Where Ash breathes easy is the talent level. Inexperience can be trumped by superior skill and athleticism. That’s the hope as spring turns to summer and summer turns to fall.
Replacing the experience, leadership and talent of Bradley Roby, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett will not be easy.
“By the time we get through 15 spring practices, the summer and fall training camp, hey, there’s no room for inexperience,” Ash said. “It's go-time, and we’ll be ready to go.”
If you watch just a small sampling of game film from the 2013 season, it quickly becomes evident that Ohio State had too many mental lapses and subpar effort to become a truly elite team. For the upcoming season to showcase the improved nature of the defense, Ash said it will take good coaching.
“We’ve got to be great teachers of teaching the concepts and getting them to understand how we want them to play,” he said. “Then we’ll expand and do a little bit more. But we’re not going to be a defense that I would call a guru defense or a junk defense. We’re going to be executors about what we do.
“And it’s going to be about the effort and the fundamentals and consistency.”
Three pillars of a championship defense. Will they stand tall at Ohio State?